KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It is one of the toughest decisions families can make: trusting someone enough to care for loved ones inside their homes.
There are systems in place intended to add security and peace of mind to those choices. However, a 41 Action News investigation uncovered a questionable caregiver slipping through the cracks.
The shocking example includes home thefts caught on hidden camera, precious heirlooms pawned off for cash and vulnerable victims unable to ask for help.
Families shared their story with 41 Action News in hopes it could help others avoid a similar home care nightmare.
Caregiver candidate ‘told me everything I wanted to hear’
Lu Jouras spent nearly 40 years as a model in Kansas City. Photos displayed around her home reveal how she deceptively aged throughout life. Even in her 80’s, Jouras appeared decades younger.
But over the past few years, a degenerative condition called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy has taken its toll.
The fast and unforgiving disease has robbed Jouras of all her muscle movement, including her ability to speak.
Her son, Peter Jouras, is now an around-the-clock caregiver at home.
“I feel like it’s my obligation. I welcome it,” Peter told 41 Action News. “I feel like now I’m her voice and I have to speak up for her.”
After a prolonged hospital visit because of pneumonia in April 2013, Lu’s condition worsened. Doctors had to insert a feeding tube, and that meant Lu’s caregiver agency could no longer provide service.
Peter felt overwhelmed and needed to find someone who could help his mother at home while he was at his full-time job. A family friend recommended a woman named Barb Loseke.
Peter remembers when Loseke showed up at the house for an interview in June.
“She told me everything I wanted to hear,” Peter said. “She sounded perfect. She told me, ‘It’s not about the money. It’s about the care.’”
Loseke was available at all times of the day and stayed for very long shifts. She also volunteered to clean the house and mow the lawn, offers Peter said he declined.
At first, he noticed small red flags. There were signs someone had been in the bedrooms, places that were supposed to be off-limits. He tried to ignore that evidence because Loseke seemed to genuinely enjoy caring for his mother.
Missing T-shirt sounds alarm bells of concern
But an unforgettable moment occurred two weeks after Loseke started the caregiving role. Peter was about to leave for the night to catch a performance with friends.
“Barb showed up at the house wearing my mom’s shirt,” Peter told 41 Action News.
The shirt was a distinct design that Peter instantly recognized from a family vacation to Paris in the early ‘90s. He secretly snapped a photo and then rushed down to the basement cedar closet, where he’d spotted the T-shirt just a few weeks earlier.
The hanger was empty.
“I thought, ‘What in the world? Who is this woman? What else has she done in my house?’” Peter said.
Trying to keep his cool, Peter avoided showing signs of alarm before Loseke finished her shift that night.
For two days, he made up excuses about why he didn’t need care for his mom as he searched through the house for missing items. It was a daunting task in a home that had been lived in for decades.
Peter decided to take a video of his mother. Despite the disease, Lu could still see and understand everything happening around her.
“Mom, if you saw Barb steal your things, I want you to raise your chin,” Peter says in the video recording.
Mustering what little muscle control remained, Lu immediately raised her chin and her eyebrows.
Peter called Loseke and fired her.
“If you have any respect for my mom at all, then you’ll bring back everything you took from this house,” Peter said he told Loseke as the phone conversation concluded.
Pawn shop records reveal missing jewelry, including high school class ring
After spending weeks assembling a list of missing items, Peter filed a report with Kansas City police.
According to court documents, a detective reviewed Loseke’s pawn shop activity and found several transactions coinciding with the time she worked at the Jouras home.
The detective showed Peter photos, which he positively identified as missing jewelry. One of the items sold for cash was Lu’s 1941 class ring.
“That really impacted me. It made me feel violated for my mom,” Peter said, his eyes watering up as he recalled the moment.
In late March, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office charged Loseke with felony theft and issued a warrant. Police picked her up a month later.
Loseke is scheduled for arraignment May 22.
NEXT: Hidden cameras capture home theft in KCK
41 Action News learned the story with Peter and Lu Jouras isn't an isolated incident.
In late 2012, Loseke was a caregiver for Tillie McGhan in Kansas City, Kan.
At the time, Loseke had no criminal record and was hired through an agency. But when family members grew suspicious, the owner of the caregiver agency placed hidden cameras inside McGhan's home.
It didn't take long to catch Loseke red-handed. The undercover video showed her methodically rummaging through drawers and occasionally removing items like jewelry, the owner told 41 Action News.
"By far, my worst experience in the business," he said.
The Wyandotte County District Attorney charged Loseke with felony theft. She later pleaded guilty to attempted mistreatment of a dependent adult, received a year of probation and was ordered to pay $12,500 in restitution.
The conviction date was June 18, just a few days after Loseke started working in the Jouras home.
"It wasn't even a speed bump to her," Peter said. "The fact that it didn't even phase her. It didn't stop her at all. Nothing stopped her."
Arrest and criminal charges skirt detection, other theft accusations emerge
The story doesn't stop there, either.
With the Wyandotte County case still pending last spring, 41 Action News discovered Loseke briefly worked with two different home care agencies.
The owners both told 41 Action News nothing showed up on her criminal background checks because the felony conviction didn't occur until later that summer.
During one of those employment stints, Loseke filled in on Mother's Day weekend to care for Janet Abercrombie's elderly father, Harold Benson.
Abercrombie told 41 Action News Loseke apparently asked the full-time caregiver for the key to the medicine cabinet. She also asked if there were cameras inside the house.
"I wish I would've heard about those red flags right away instead of after the fact," Abercrombie said.
Abercrombie said Loseke fed her father oatmeal as he was lying down in bed and he aspirated, falling unconscious.
Abercrombie remembers getting the call from the hospice crisis care team, who informed her that her dad likely only had a few hours to live.
Benson survived, but has not been able to walk since the close call. Abercrombie later discovered Loseke’s recent criminal background.
“I was appalled,” Abercrombie told 41 Action News. “I’m sure she wanted to walk around the house without being caught on video and also wanted to know where the medicine was so she could sedate him.”
Abercrombie filed a complaint with the Kansas Department of Children and Families last fall. She received a letter that her case had been assigned to an investigator, but it stated she would not be notified about the final determination.
Abercrombie said she had removed most valuables from the home after her mother died in 2006. Even so, she checked at a nearby pawn shop to see if she recognized anything Loseke had sold for cash, but nothing was familiar.
Finally, 41 Action News also discovered another felony theft charge against Loseke in Johnson County. The case involved stealing valuables from an ex-boyfriend. Loseke pleaded guilty in January and will owe a to-be-determined amount of restitution.
The Jouras case in Jackson County makes the third felony theft charge against Loseke in the past year.
After learning of the other incidents, Wyandotte County prosecutors tell 41 Action News they are looking at revoking Loseke's probation.
"The time for leniency, I feel, is over," Peter said.
Families need to do their homework before hiring a caregiver
Leslie Hale is the program manager for Adult Protective Services, a branch of the Kansas Department of Children and Families.
Hale says financial abuse and exploitation is a growing issue. Elderly victims are often times embarrassed or scared to report it if they notice something missing, she said.
If families decide to hire a caregiver on their own, Hale said they really need to do their homework. Along with a criminal background check, she says to look at local court records to see if there are pending criminal cases or civil matters. Also check with multiple references, Hale said.
READ MORE: TIPS FOR HIRING A CAREGIVER
The State of Kansas maintains a registry of individuals with findings of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. However, this is another instance where Loseke would skirt detection.
Even with the exploitation conviction in Wyandotte County, Loseke is not included on the list because she isn’t licensed as a healthcare worker.
“If she’s a provider who’s not licensed anywhere, you’re right, she’ll fall through the cracks,” Hale told 41 Action News. “She’s not going to be on our registries.”
The only way that would change is a substantiated finding related to the complaint Abercrombie submitted about Loseke last fall. State officials would not tell 41 Action News if that case remains under investigation.
The State of Missouri keeps a similar database that can be checked free of charge by employers and families considering hiring a caregiver. In the Kansas City area, it’s important to check resources on both sides of the state line.
To report suspected abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, call 1-800-922-5330 in Kansas and 1-800-392-0210 in Missouri.
Hale recommends using a reputable caregiver agency because they should do the comprehensive background, registry and reference checks.
If something does go wrong, caregiver agencies also have liability, Hale added.
“A lot of people think all you have to do is a criminal background check and there is really a lot more to it than that,” she said.
41 Action News questions caregiver about the home thefts
When asked why she would take family heirlooms and pawn them off for cash, Loseke didn’t offer any reasoning.
"I don't know," she replied to several questions, adding that she is “getting help” in the form of counseling.
According to Jackson County court documents, Loseke “admitted she knew it was wrong to steal other people’s items” during her interview with police.
Meantime, Peter Jouras does his best to think about better memories during quiet moments with his mom.
However, he struggles wondering about all the things she saw, but is unable to tell him.
"She really victimized her and violated her, and that's something that just stays with you," he said.
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