MODESTO -- It's getting to be like a form column, with a fill-in-the-blanks opener:
"As friends and loved ones on (insert day here) said their final goodbyes at (insert cemetery name here), heartless thieves broke into their cars just yards away, stealing wallets, purses, cell phones and anything else of value."
A repetitious topic, indeed, because it keeps happening despite repeated warnings.
Grieving for some means criminal opportunity for others, whether it's breaking into cars at the cemeteries or ransacking survivors' homes while they're attending funeral services.
There is no depth to which the creeps won't sink.
The most recent episode occurred Saturday at Ceres Memorial Park. While mourners wiped away their tears at a grave just yards away, two men in a Jeep Cherokee its logo using an American flag as a backdrop stopped near their vehicles.
"An older and younger man got out, then left the area," Ceres police Sgt. Jose Berber said. "Victims found purses missing that were stashed under the seats."
"It adds to their grief," said Clay Guzman, the memorial park's manager.
Yet it keeps happening even though signs posted throughout Ceres Memorial Park and Turlock Memorial Park, Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson and just about every other cemetery around warn folks not to leave valuables in plain view. This applies to cars that are locked or unlocked. A few years ago, a car vanished from Lakewood while its owner knelt at a grave 15 feet away.
In some cases, visitors have left windows down because of the heat, assuming that nothing could possibly happen in such a serene place.
Cemeteries post the signs because the thefts have happened on their grounds many times over. Large memorial parks usually have security services, but the guards can't be everywhere at once, Guzman said.
The thieves, meanwhile, operate with great stealth. They pretend to be looking at other graves, or do something to distract the park visitors. Then they punch out a window or reach in an open one to grab whatever's available. They also seem to run like Olympic sprinters coming out of the blocks, Ceres' Guzman said.
"I saw a person do it once," he said. "I tried to chase him down, but he was gone."
I wrote about such thefts after a rash of them occurred last year at Lakewood. Park officials wanted the word out, and the thefts have subsided there because visitors became more diligent in locking their vehicles and stowing valuables in the trunks.
Awareness goes a long way toward preventing crimes, the experts will tell you.
Funeral planning once consisted of picking out a casket, flowers, securing a minister to preside or arranging for cremation. Now, add home security to the list.
Families publish elaborately detailed obituaries in The Bee and other newspapers. They plan fitting memorials services that enable the deceased's kin, friends and co-workers to say goodbye.
And in doing so, they list the time and place in essence telling the cretins of the world exactly when the family home will be empty.
Now, many funeral directors instruct their clients to make sure someone is there to protect the home while the family attends the service.
Bee reader Betty Martin wrote to us about last weekend's theft at Ceres.
"I know they are too ignorant to be able to read this," she e-mailed. "But just maybe, someone will read this article to them so they know they will pay for their behavior one day."
Better yet, lock your cars. Put wallets, purses and other valuables in the trunk before you get to the cemetery. Leave nothing in the open to be seen.
That way, you can pay your respects without paying the thieves.
And you can also expect we'll be revisiting the topic in the not-too-distant future, filling in the blanks with a new day and place because a cemetery visitor forgot how cold and heartless thieves can be.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.