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Cover Story: To Catch a Thief

Getting inside the criminal mind

By Stephen Carter-Novotni · May 28th, 2008 · Cover Story
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  While many of us look forward to summer's long daylight hours, barbecues and family vacations, we're also reminded of the things we've had stolen from us during past years. Warm weather and lackadaisical attitudes are prime conditions for frat boys and poor people to sneak up and gank our stuff, and nearly anything of value can be at risk. The resources stolen from CityBeat employees during recent summers could rival those used by the famed 1987 Nintendo character Link, from
J.D. Cutter

While many of us look forward to summer's long daylight hours, barbecues and family vacations, we're also reminded of the things we've had stolen from us during past years. Warm weather and lackadaisical attitudes are prime conditions for frat boys and poor people to sneak up and gank our stuff, and nearly anything of value can be at risk. The resources stolen from CityBeat employees during recent summers could rival those used by the famed 1987 Nintendo character Link, from "The Legend of Zelda," to save the princess and all of Hyrule. The following are items that we still miss and want returned:



My old apartment on Liberty Hill was a wreck when I returned home. Of course, I was a bachelor then and it always was wrecked, so at first I didn't notice that anything was out of sorts.

Where did I leave my laptop? Under the clothes or the books? I couldn't find it or my mountain bike, which was something that even my squatter-style housecleaning skills couldn't conceal. When I found the chisel under my bed and saw the pry marks on my door, I knew I'd been robbed.

Technically, I hadn't been robbed. Robbery is an in-person transaction, like what happens when you walk into one of those check-cashing dives (and even that's really "usury").

My home had been burgled. The latter is a sneaky thing, more akin to bank surcharges.

Besides being unnerved for a month or more after the break in, neurotically locking and checking my locks and replacing the old locks with better ones -- galvanized steel and unusually cut keys played some part in my approach to "better" locks -- I was driven to act as my own detective to see that what passed for justice was done.

The thief came into my flat using my landlord's rusty chisel set that had been strewn about the floor of an unoccupied second floor apartment. After a brief and unsatisfying discussion, the police surmised that he gained entry to my building by breaking a basement window and unfastening an inside lock.

This might have been a reasonable assumption except that the glass was broken out and not in. The broken glass, too, was nowhere to be found.

A little sleuthing showed that our fellow crept in by way of an open security gate and patio door, left ajar to welcome soccer enthusiasts coming to watch the World Cup with my Dutch neighbors on the second floor, across the hall from the empty flat with the tools. Based on our investigation, my friend and I concluded that the thief breezed in the gate, through the back patio door and into the building to do as he pleased.

The broken window was a red herring. We checked the garbage cans for the missing pieces of glass and eventually discovered the shards scattered among the weeds on the back lawn.

Excited at our find and irritated that the police hadn't been able to retrieve the glass, we hastened to call District Four and were blunted by a condescending voice advising us that the police lab wasn't going to be able to lift any fingerprints off of our find and that we'd been watching too much Law and Order for our own good. It was only after repeated calls that someone came out, took the glass and ultimately identified the thief.

I don't remember much personal information about him, and his name is lost to me. He was no more than 30, a crackhead who several weeks earlier had come face-to-face with an almost-crime-victim around the corner from my place. Between the prints and the visual ID, the police ended up connecting the burglar to more than a dozen crimes around Clifton Heights and Mount Auburn.

In the end, his take was meager and his costs high. My unremarkable bike and practically antique laptop sold for a paltry sum on the streets within a few hours.

His sentence was more than four years for the round-up of thefts. With a little more luck and a pair of gloves he could have continued on.

Something as basic as gloves seems like a no-brainer, and there's a part of me that wanted to label my thief as stupid, but that's not the case: His logic was simple and linear and beyond the ken of civilized folks.

He needed drugs and didn't have the money to buy them, my house had stuff in it that he could sell for the money and he needed to act before his craving drove him over the edge -- nothing else mattered. A criminal's whole mind is corrupted, and you can't expect that he's going to make rational choices, even if they're in his best interest. ©

 
 
 
 

 

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