San Francisco woman allegedly steals from local school, Palo Alto church

Police: Ethel Jean Hays found with keys to variety of buildings

A 70-year-old San Francisco woman was arrested by Palo Alto police and charged with burglarizing a church and possessing property stolen from a Los Altos school.

According to police, officers responded to a call from an employee of Trinity Lutheran Church around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, March 15, reporting that the church's alarm had been activated and its surveillance cameras had captured footage of a woman inside the church. Officers responded to the church, at 1295 Middlefield Road, but did not find anyone inside.

An officer patrolling the downtown area spotted a woman, later identified as Ethel Jean Hays, walking on the 200 block of Lytton Avenue around 1:20 a.m. who resembled the woman in the surveillance footage. The officer confronted Hays, and she acknowledged that she had been inside the church. During a search of the Hays' belongings, police found a key to Trinity Lutheran Church, as well as keys to several other businesses in downtown, police said. Hays was also in possession of documents that had been stolen from Montecito Preschool in Los Altos.

Detectives also found that Hays was in possession of two guitars, which are believed to have been stolen from an unknown location, police said. One of the guitars is an uncommon, Hill brand, valued at more than $5,000 while the other is a more common Kay brand guitar. Police are seeking the public's help in reuniting the guitars with their rightful owners.

Investigators said Hays was also responsible for a burglary of Trinity Lutheran Church on Feb. 9, where a small amount of cash, donated by parishioners, was stolen from a church office.

Police are working to determine whether any other buildings for which Hays possessed keys have been burglarized. It is unknown how she obtained the stolen keys, police said. The Los Altos Police Department is conducting an investigation of the theft at Montecito Preschool. School officials were unsure when the theft occurred, police said.

Hays was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail for two counts of burglary (one for each of the burglaries of Trinity Lutheran Church) and possession of stolen property.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the police department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to or sent via text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984.

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4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 11:53 am

Crescent Park Mom is a registered user.

Unbelievable that this sweet-looking grandmotherly woman got caught! Reminder to us all that there isn't a stereotype for the face of a criminal.

2 people like this
Posted by jensen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 12:24 pm

another lets do whatever benefits me. this is rampant in the world today--whether it is stealing, lying, bullying, killing, etc. it all starts from the top--when Americas leaders do this, it pervades throughout society. time to get our leadership and morals put back into place, so we can once again thrive as a nation. it is very disheartening to see the greed starting from the top on a daily basis. Leaders lying, hiding the truth, doing whatever they want to do and when caught, blame everyone else to make it seem like others are the ones that are out of control. we hate to say this, but the devil is in the government--and, everyone notices.

8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Remember the senior citizen that kept trying to sneak through security at airports. Racial profiling doesn't work. The perp can look like anyone.

3 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 18, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Good work by PAPD! But also shows how effective video cameras are - how about some downtown, especially in the crime ridden parking garages?

5 people like this
Posted by Samina
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 1:40 pm

I hope they have done a through medical test for this woman?

2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 18, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Obviously, one of our more hardened criminals.

3 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:25 pm

How about security cameras at Cubberley - that place needs some protection.

5 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:51 pm

What were the documents from the preschool? Is anyone's personal data at risk?

Like this comment
Posted by Old Hippie
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm

I know this person well. What hasn't been mentioned in any of the news reports I've seen is her long history of interactions with the mental health system in every place she has lived in over the years. She is seriously schizophrenic. So is she fated for the great and growing community of incarcerated schizophrenics?

Like this comment
Posted by Old Hippie
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Also she is a very talented artist, by the way.

Like this comment
Posted by ethel jean hays the artist
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:39 am

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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