It’s a case, says Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart, that makes your heart sink.
Albert Loehlein, 95, still was living independently in the house he bought in 1945 when a repeat convicted burglar allegedly beat him to death in his bedroom last week. Loehlein’s death most likely happened over a mantel clock and a gold pocket watch.
“A good man who was living a good life,” Stuart said Friday after announcing charges against Isaiah M. Thomas. “And then to be taken out in such a senseless way.”
Thomas, 27, lived six blocks from Loehlein’s tidy Anoka house. In two weeks, he was facing a lengthy sentence for a burglary conviction in Ramsey County. He told a witness he planned to flee to California.
A single fingerprint on a wooden box led detectives to Thomas, who was stopped and arrested while driving on Wednesday. Stuart declined to speculate on whether Loehlein’s house was targeted.
“This is an offense where everyone is outraged and frustrated at the killing of an elderly gentleman,” County Attorney Tony Palumbo said. “The killer showed no mercy to the victim. The state will show no mercy to the killer.”
Thomas, 27, of Anoka, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, and his bail was set at $2 million. He has three burglary convictions, some involving break-ins in which people were home at the time.
Loehlein, who lived independently but received some assistance from his family, was found Monday morning by a family member who stopped to drop off groceries. The medical examiner said he had been dead for at least two days.
Loehlein had severe head, face and neck injuries, the charges read. Investigators collected a fingerprint from a wooden box, and it matched one belonging to Thomas that was on file with law enforcement. There were no signs of forced entry, Stuart said.
Detectives later were alerted to a mantel clock that turned up at a Maplewood pawnshop, which the victim’s family then identified as belonging to Loehlein. When Thomas was stopped, detectives found Loehlein’s gold pocket watch.
Thomas also told a witness that he made a mistake and referenced “that old man” in television news reports.
Thomas, who is known in court records to have had at least six aliases, has a criminal history in Minnesota that dates to his teen years.
In the first burglary he was convicted of, committed in 2005, a 15-year-old Thomas entered a St. Paul home when it was unoccupied and stole gym shoes, watches, cash, electronics and other items. He came back the next day and was stopped from entering the front door by a woman holding her ground on the other side.
As a 19-year-old in 2009, he broke into a Maplewood townhouse while people were home and stole a wallet, phone and video game consoles.
In 2011, when he was 22, Thomas burglarized a St. Paul home when a woman and her 6- and 3-year-old daughters were home.
Loehlein worked for decades for WCCO Radio (830 AM) tending to the transmitter in Coon Rapids. He was a World War II veteran who loved to hunt, fish and make maple syrup, said his nephew, Bart Ward, who is a member of Anoka’s anti-crime commission. “He was 95 going on 75,” he said.
Loehlein’s wife, Hannah, died seven years ago and “that shook him to his core,” Ward said. But his house meant so much to him that he wouldn’t think of moving.
Loehlein didn’t express any safety concerns to his nephew. Ward thought his uncle may have been targeted because he often worked in the yard.
“He survived the dangers of the war and working on a transmitter,” Ward said. “Nothing surprises me in this world.”
He described his uncle as a dapper man who did an outstanding job of raising his children. If there is a trial, Ward plans to attend.
Stuart praised the work of crime scene personnel and the collaboration of Anoka County and Anoka law enforcement. It would have been easy to overlook the fingerprint that eventually led to Thomas’ arrest, he said.
Anoka is a small town with a large elderly population, said Anoka Police Chief Eric Peterson. When something like this happens, the entire community is shaken, he said.
“We can now rest a little easier that a suspect has been caught,” he said.