Witness says Rowcroft had manager's keys

Marie Ehlers tells jurors that former Kmart employee visited her the morning of theft

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

A woman who said she was afraid to testify against Frank Brian Rowcroft told jurors Thursday he had the Kmart shift manager's keys on the morning that nearly $100,000 disappeared from the store's safe.

Marie Ehlers said her boyfriend was the night manager at the now-closed Juneau store, and Rowcroft showed up at her door at about 2:30 p.m. on March 31, 2002, asking for the keys her boyfriend had left behind. The keys included the key to the room with the safe.

Rowcroft, the local Kmart's former loss-control supervisor, is standing trial on a first-degree theft charge stemming from the disappearance of more than $68,000 in cash and more than $31,000 in check and credit receipts from the safe. Before the theft was uncovered, power was shut off for various store functions.

Last week, Rowcroft was arrested on two more felony charges alleging he had threatened Ehlers. Jurors were not told of the recent charges.

Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner began questioning Ehlers Thursday by asking her to point out Rowcroft in the courtroom and saying how she knew him.

After extending an arm, she began to cry, then covered her face. Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins called a five-minute recess.

Returning to the stand, Ehlers explained how she gave Rowcroft her boyfriend's work keys at her Douglas home. She also said that when she was smoking on her porch between 3 and 3:30 a.m. that morning, she saw Rowcroft driving toward the Douglas bridge, presumably on his way to Kmart.

Gardner questioned why she was afraid to testify, first asking her about other times she had spoken to Rowcroft.

Ehlers said she recognized his voice on the telephone on two occasions around last September. He said she called him a rude name "and he said not to say anything and to watch my back. ... It was Brian. It was his voice."

"How do you feel about testifying today?" Gardner asked.

Defense attorney Louis Menendez objected. Collins overruled him.

"I'm scared," Ehlers said.

Menendez objected again when Gardner asked if she left Alaska last week, despite being under subpoena to testify. Collins said she would allow the line of questioning.

Ehlers said she, her boyfriend and her two children took the car on the ferry to Bellingham, Wash. She started crying again when Gardner asked her why.

"Because I'm scared to come here, because of Brian," she said.

Under cross-examination, Menendez asked why she waited for the Permanent Fund Dividend checks to arrive before leaving. "Was it more important for you to get the checks?" he asked.

"That was the only source of income I could use to leave," she answered.

Menendez noted that shortly after the theft, when police asked her what happened at Kmart, she told them about the keys. He asked why she would start there.

"It was the first thing that popped into my mind," she answered.

Menendez asked Virginia Berg, who worked in the cash cage, about the actions of the night manager.

Berg said the night manager looked stunned when he opened the safe combination lock for her between 6 and 6:30 a.m. that morning and discovered the money was missing.

Under cross examination, she said that was the first time the night manager had looked into the safe.

Menendez also asked Sue Dougherty, who supervised the front end of the store during that overnight shift, to describe how the night manager had found the circuit switches for the store's freezers and about the time when she couldn't account for the night manager's whereabouts.

When Berg and other witnesses testified that the night manager didn't have his keys that night, Collins sustained objections from Menendez, who said that information would have to come from the night manager.

Gardner said the man is being brought back from Washington and will testify as soon as possible.

Menendez also questioned Ehler's statement to police that Rowcroft called her before he came to pick up the keys. He asked her if it was on her cell phone or the phone at her home.

She said it was the land line.

"Your phone wasn't working on March 31, 2002," Menendez said, asking her to remember what her parents did for her 23rd birthday, four days later.

"They reconnected my phone," she recalled.

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