State police don’t know if anyone will ever be charged in the death of Donald Wichelns, whose skeletal remains were discovered in a crate behind the Little Falls home of his former caretaker.
But recently, authorities promised to hold anyone accountable who knew about Wichelns’ death yet continued to exploit him financially for years without reporting the elderly man had died.
“I’ll tell you one thing: We’re going to pursue this to the end, because Mr. Wichelns didn’t deserve what he got, to be left in a crate while people were using his money,” state police Senior Investigator Timothy Blaise said. “It’s just not right, and we’re going to do anything we can to charge anyone involved with anything illegal in this case. It may not be his death, but if anybody committed any other crimes, we’re going to pursue them to the end.”
Only one person – Tammy Lynn Sterling-Barthelmess, who was Wichelns’ former caretaker – has been charged so far since Wichelns’ decomposed remains were discovered on May 1 wrapped up in a concealed crate behind 59 Flint Ave.
The property is owned by Sterling-Barthelmess, who faces multiple charges of forgery for allegedly faking Wichelns’ name on a number of checks to withdraw his monthly Social Security payments, Blaise said. She is currently out on bail and awaiting further court proceedings.
Investigators do not yet know how Wichelns died. Pending toxicology tests could give some answers, Blaise said, but it’s also possible police may never know whether Wichelns’ death was intentional, accidental or natural. He would be 71 if he still were alive today.
Police also aren’t sure exactly when Wichelns died, although he was last seen alive in 2004. Wichelns has a brother who lives in New York as well as a son and daughter who live out of state, but they all lost touch with Wichelns years ago, Blaise said.
The only thing investigators know for sure, Blaise said, is Sterling-Barthelmess has been allegedly forging Wichelns’ name to his checks for years. And while somebody has been regularly cashing Wichelns’ checks and drawing money from his bank account, Blaise said neither Sterling-Barthelmess nor anyone else yet has been charged with stealing his money.
While police have a number of “good leads” they’re still working on to resolve this case, Blaise said the unknown circumstances of Wichelns’ death continue to pose their own obstacles.
“One of the biggest challenges is the duration that he’s been deceased,” Blaise said. “If he had been dead for a couple weeks, the case would be a lot easier. So what’s happened in those years? We have no idea, and that’s what makes it really hard.”
Page 2 of 2 - Also, some charges might be off the table if any statutes of limitations have expired, Blaise said.