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WATCH: How cops return dead wife's stolen camera, with her last moments still intact

He had already lost the love of his life to cancer, but the pain didn't stop there.

In 2012, a year after his 30-year-old wife Erica Werdel-Lacey died, burglars broke into Dave Lacey's home in Santa Ana, California and stole many valuables.

The one priceless item they took: His wife's camera containing all her last moments, including the funeral.

Lacey had not backed up the photos onto his computer as he could not bear to look at the photos. He was waiting for the right time, when the grief subsided.

"It just didn't seem fair, because after all that we went through, to lose those, it was like a punch in the gut," he told CNN.

The couple started dating seriously in the late 2000s and an elaborate wedding was in the works.

Then, Erica went for a body scan after suffering a persistent cold.

Shocking news came in December 2011, just before the wedding: Erica had two large tumors in her chest and behind her diaphragm.

She was suffering from an aggressive cancer called B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Despite the shock, they went ahead with the wedding.

Erica seemed to be getting better in their first year of marriage. But the cancer returned, this time stronger than before.

To cope, she picked up photography to capture simple moments in the limited time left - and took snapshots that money can not buy.

When the camera disappeared, her husband was devastated.

Luckily, Lacey had a tracking app to trace his computer, leading detectives Paul McClaskey and Jerry Verdugo to the two burglars. They arrested David Aguilar and his girlfriend, Monica Molina, who had been involved in a series of thefts.


David Aguilar and Monica Molina pleaded guilty to a series of burglaries. Photo: Facebook

The detectives found pawn shop slips in the pair's home and retrieved two dozen stolen items. Among them was a Canon camera with a distinctive hand-stitched shoulder strap.

When Detective McClaskey scanned through the photographs, he knew he had to return the camera to its owner.

"As I started thumbing through, it was apparent that (the) camera was special," McClaskey’s partner, Mr Verdugo, recalled.


Detectives Paul McClaskey and Jerry Verdugo arrested the two burglars involved in the home invasions. Photos: Facebook, YouTube

The photos however, yielded little clues about the owner's identity. One photo showed a blue house next to a beige wall, somewhere in the north-east side of Santa Ana.

So detectives began their search for the owner in the neighbourhood. They were ready to give up when a resident told them the house they were looking for had been re-painted. The owner had lost his wife to cancer.

"I thought it was a joke at first," Dave Lacey said, describing the moment he got a phone call from police. "I had given up all thought of recovery."

He couldn't believe it until he saw the gadget's shoulder strap and all the pictures that were still intact.

"I feel like someone was watching out for me, just to get it back," Dave Lacey said.

Sources: Daily Mail, YouTube

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