Grave thief's girlfriend pleads guilty

The girlfriend of a man who stole hundreds of vases off graves at two Illawarra cemeteries, outraging the community, has admitted to driving her partner to one of the robberies and helping him sell some of the pinched items.

Tracy Lynn Ellem, of Farmborough Heights, yesterday pleaded guilty to driving her boyfriend, Brett Craig Buddle, to a Unanderra cemetery and then waiting while he removed nearly 500 brass vases from the memorial.

She also admitted to helping him sell nearly 60 aluminium vases, which were taken from Mount Kembla Soldiers and Miners Memorial Church cemetery, driving him to a Unanderra scrap metallist and using her ID to secure the sale.

The 40-year-old, who fronted Wollongong Local Court yesterday, confessed to police that she had driven Buddle to a spot near Wollongong Memorial Gardens Cemetery on September 4 last year.

She admitted to then waiting for her boyfriend while he entered the grounds and removed 496 brass flower vessels from dozens of memorial plaques, damaging several sites in the process.

Buddle eventually returned to the car and Ellem drove him away from the scene, the court heard.

The next day, Buddle visited Cringila’s Steel City Metals, where he handed over several boxes of metal, including the vases, receiving $206.15 for the items.

Police were contacted and the pair were arrested on September 6.

Just days earlier, Ellem drove Buddle to Frontier Metals in Unanderra, watching on as her partner told the owner he ‘‘had a bit of scrap’’ and opened the boot to reveal bags of aluminium, including 60 vases stolen from the Mt Kembla cemetery.

The owner told Buddle the items were worth $36 and asked for his licence to secure the payment.

When Buddle said he didn’t have one, Ellem handed over her licence and her details were recorded on the receipt.

Police were soon notified about the dodgy transaction.

Ellem told police she was ‘‘suspicious’’ that some of the items may have been stolen, but said she had no knowledge of where the items were from or when they were stolen.

Ellem yesterday pleaded guilty to larceny and disposing of stolen property. Buddle pleaded guilty last year to charges stemming from both thefts.

The recovered stolen vases.

The recovered stolen vases.