Mike Madriaga 8:30 a.m., Feb. 23
Wife of ranch manager is suspected of stealing items
Shelley Thorpe pleads not guilt to theft and drug charges
Property owners were pleased with the work of a ranch hand they hired, but phoned authorities when they suspected his wife was stealing things.
Shelley Leigh Thorpe, 53, is accused of stealing property from a seven-acre parcel of land at 34337 Lilac Road in Pala, California.
The undeveloped acreage is owned by four different persons who like to stay in trailers on the land every weekend. “It’s glorified camping, basically,” said one of the owners, Diane Vazquez. There is a pond and a domed greenhouse and several large storage containers on their property.
Diane Vazquez said they hired a ranch manager who moved into his own trailer on the land about a year ago. She described Clay Hunter as an “incredibly hard worker” and a “good mechanic.” The owners said they signed a contract with Clay in July 2012, and then he brought his wife Shelley and their 8-year-old son to live there with him.
“We hired a ranch man, and she came along with him,” agreed Victor Vazquez, who is another owner of the property. He testified at a court hearing for Shelley Leigh Thorpe yesterday, July 29. “After she got Clay arrested, that’s when things started going missing.”
In February of 2013, Shelley Thorpe reported a domestic dispute and then obtained a restraining order against her husband, witnesses told a judge. Immediately after Clay Hunter was banished from the property because of the court order, owners began to notice items missing, they said.
The owners also reported difficulty getting Shelley Thorpe to vacate their property; eventually they began eviction proceedings.
Owner Diane Vazquez said she was surprised one day to find that the locks on storage containers were changed. After she cut off the new locks, she said it was obvious that items were missing from inside.
And a 7,000 gallon water storage tank was stolen; it was later determined to have been sold to a recycling center. The owners expressed suspicion that somehow Shelley was complicit in the theft of the huge water tank.
On May 18, investigators reported finding “cut locks” and stolen items in Shelley’s trailer located on the property, according to Sheriff’s detective Laura Whalen. Glass pipes and methamphetamine were also found, the detective said.
In June, a deputy stopped Shelley Thorpe when she was driving near the property. Deputy J. Cruz said, “She displayed symptoms of being under the influence of a controlled substance.” The deputy said he found meth and a pipe inside the woman’s truck, and he noticed items matching descriptions of stolen goods in the back.
At that time, Shelley Thorpe was out on bail for a previous arrest for possession of stolen property, when she was arrested again, according to a prosecutor.
Public defender Alvaro Gonzalez called three witnesses, they all said they knew Shelley for years. Each man said he came to the property after her husband was banished by the restraining order. One man said he gave Shelley the allegedly stolen tools found in her truck and trailer; another man said he witnessed the banished-husband returning to the property and taking things; the last witness said he took a wood-burning stove that Shelley was accused of stealing.
The defense attorney suggested that one of Shelley’s visitors might have left the meth found by deputies in her truck and her trailer. And the banished-husband was suggested as the likely culprit for any thefts.
Honorable Judge Robert J. Kearney ordered Shelley Leigh Thorpe to answer seven criminal charges and revoked her probation from a previous conviction. The defendant pleads not guilty and is next due in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse on August 26.
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