Man who stole 150 wigs, some for kids with cancer, gets 3.5-year sentence

A man who smashed into a Vancouver wig shop and stole dozens of wigs, including some for children fighting cancer, has been sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment.

Martin Wiegelt, 53, was sentenced on Jan. 13 at the Downtown Community Court in Vancouver for the Sept. 2018 break-in to Eva & Co. Wigs and two other break-ins. He pleaded guilty in Sept. 2019.

The wig heist saw him abscond with 150 hairpieces worth about $2,500 each. About 15 of them were intended for patients at B.C. Children's Hospital with conditions that involve hair loss, such as cancer or alopecia.

With credit for time served he is left with 505 days — almost 17 months — in jail.

Police have called Weigelt one of Vancouver's most prolific property offenders with over 100 criminal convictions since 1987.

Vancouver Police

"Hopefully after this fairly lengthy period of time in custody you'll turn into a different direction and we won't see you again," Judge Thomas Gove said as sentencing concluded.

'It was heartbreaking'

Reached for comment Friday, Eva & Co. manager Frances Rae said she was satisfied with the sentence but the crime was devastating.

Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press

"I had just gone through the process of calling [the children] and telling them [the wigs] are here, they're ready, we're finished and they were so excited," Rae said.

"then I had to call them all back and tell them, sorry, we were robbed and they were gone. It was heartbreaking. I had kids on the phone that burst into tears. I had parents crying."

Rae said about 35 of the wigs were found in a black garbage bag in the hallway of a Downtown Eastside hotel. 

A woman at the hotel discovered the wigs and called police after hearing about the robbery in the news. 

Due to fears about contamination, however, they couldn't be given to clients.

Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press

Smashed through store wall

CBC News listened to an audio recording of the sentencing provided by the court.

Crown counsel Louise Gauld described the circumstances of the wig shop break-in, saying it was "more aggravated" than the other two break-ins.

On Sept. 7, 2018, Weigelt had pried open the door to a juice bar on West Broadway near Laurel Street. He then used a crowbar to smash through the drywall between the juice bar and the wig shop, one unit over.

Once inside, Weigelt grabbed black garbage bags, gathered up the wigs and escaped through the back door, setting off an alarm. He left behind items that were traced back to him by DNA analysis.

Prosecutor Gauld acknowledged Weigelt likely didn't know some of the wigs were intended for sick children but said it was "a tragic side effect of his behaviour."

Troubled past, substance abuse issues

Defence attorney Mark Swartz said Weiglet felt "completely horrible" once he found out some of the wigs were for children. 

He described his client's "tumultuous" upbringing and efforts to change.

He grew up with a father who was physically and verbally abusive. He may have some learning issues. He suffers from "significant" anxiety and depression which has exacerbated his substance use.

He remains traumatized, Swartz said, from a 2006 incident where Vancouver police photographed him, appearing injured, in the department's lockup after an arrest. 

Swartz said Weigelt completed some rehabilitation programs while in custody. 

"My past does not determine my future," Weigelt said. "From this point on I just hope I make the right decisions and not let myself down."

The sentence was a joint submission by Crown and defence. After jail time he will be on probation for a year.

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.