April 20, 2005

CSI - The Butcher's House

Blink - Blink

Many thanks for all the kind words and thoughts about our burglary yesterday.

We're all just fine, thanks. The Missus is still a bit rattled, as this has never happened to her before. The five and three year olds, both of whom are sturdy little things, seem unphased.

My primary concern was with the seven year old. She has a passion for order that might be described as Cromwellian, coupled with a hair-trigger temper. When things get out of whack, she gets upset. And her default reaction to being upset is rage. So, as you can imagine, explaining to her what happened when she got home from school was a delicate business, akin to defusing a bomb. However, I'm happy to say, it was a successful one, too. The touchiest point was when she asked what kind of people could do such a thing. Deciding to go with my gut and cut the red wire, I replied calmly and phlegmatically that there were an awful lot of bad people in the world and that these things sometimes just happen but that the police were going to help us do something about it. She took that well enough, asking what they would do and what would happen to the thief if and when caught. I knew that I had cut the correct wire when she asked if she could help the policemen look for clues. I knew that the bomb had been successfully defused when she asked if she could tell everybody at school what had happened.

As for myself, well, I had my house broken into when I lived in London off Wandsworth Common back in the late 80's. That time, apart from taking several days to convince myself that the guy wasn't still in the house, I also felt that icky sense of violation that several people have mentioned here. This time, I have to confess that what I mostly feel - apart from relief that things weren't any worse than they were - is a combination of annoyance and disgust.

First, I'm rather annoyed with myself - the guy got in through the back door, which I foolishly forgot to check the previous night and therefore left unlocked. I was also annoyed at having to clean up the mess he left and at having to keep the Llama-ettes out of it for three hours before the police finally showed up.

But mostly, I'm disgusted, not because it was such an outrage (which it was) but because it all turned out to be so pathetic. The whole think smacks of rank amateurism. For one thing, we're still puzzling over the burglar's choice of loot. He completely ignored what jewelry the Missus had sitting out, as well as a goodish number of pocket-size but valuable knick-knacks. Instead, he zeroed in solely on the electronics. Even this I could understand, I suppose, but for his selection of equipment. For one thing, he took the satellite receiver box, going to the trouble of removing the little activation card and unscrewing the box from all its cables, but completely ignoring the DVD player sitting right next to it. Even the nice woman from DirecTV couldn't understand why he'd waste his time on something so worthless (and serial-marked and now red-flagged in DirecTV's database, I might add). The only other thing he actually took was a decrepid old laptop that a friend gave us and that I've never once used. It was sitting next to my stereo system, which he also ignored.

Apparently, the thief was in the middle of taking apart the components of our home computer when something spooked him - quite possibly the Missus coming home at lunch time. The printer and the speakers were strewn about and the hard-drive was up-ended where he'd been busy pulling out cords. Given the tangle in which I keep all those things, he had to have worked like a sum'bitch just to have got as far as he did. But even if he'd gotten the thing away completely, it would hardly have been worth it. We bought that computer in 1998. It's only got a Pentium 2 chip. Gateway made a big deal of its buy-back-in-exchange-for-upgrade program at the time, but if we were to try and send the thing back now, we'd probably wind up owing Gateway money to take it off our hands.

We have a Bose radio in the library, which the thief also tried to take. Indeed, this was the scene of the worst mayhem. The radio sits up on a shelf in the bookcase and the guy had to pull out several shelves worth of books to get at the outlet to unplug it. In the process, he also wound up smashing a fair-sized snowglobe someone had given us. But here again, his effort came to naught - the radio was left sitting on the sofa along with a handful of my cigars that he had discovered, all ready for the getaway. But in his rush to leave, the guy forgot them.

So there you have it. No injuries. Minimal upset. Everybody safe and sound. Thank Heaven. Sum total missing: a worthless laptop and an unusable satellite receiver. BFD.

The police think a kid did it. So do I, but I doubt very seriously that it was one of the local kids - we live on the less-fashionable side of a pretty snooty neighborhood. Most of the kids there have allowances bigger than my paycheck, so money wouldn't be an issue. And all of them would stare down their noses in disgust at our second-rate electronics. Instead, I believe this was the work of a kid who came through the neighborhood "selling" magazine subscriptions the evening before. Neither the Missus nor I saw him, but our neighbor did. In fact, she said there were a pair of them, one of whom was decently dressed and polite, but the other of whom was a first-class hood. Indeed, on getting a look at him, she almost called the cops herself. If I had to bet, I'd say he scoped the neighborhood that evening and came back the next morning to see if he could get lucky. (I should note that there is virtually no crime in our neck of the woods. There is virtually no solicitation by inner-city youth types, either. I consider it more than coincidental that we should get both within the same 24 hour period. The police agree.)

The other possibility is that it was a construction worker (there's a lot of building going on near us) or a maintenance type (lawn service, VA Power, Cox, Verizon, whoever), somebody wandering around in apparent semi-authority. But neither the police nor I really think so owing to the poor choice of targets the guy made and the dumb-ass way he went about trying to take them.

Whoever it was - punk, neighborhood kid, construction/maintenance guy, did get lucky, up to a point. But it was fool's luck, too. The door through which the guy came in and out opens onto our back porch. It sits up one floor from the ground and is exposed to the view of our very nosey neighbor and a pair of very barky dogs. (In fact, the neighbor heard the dogs barking, but for once did not come out to tell them to be quiet.) The only way up and down is a spiral staircase. (Indeed, on his way out, the thief got the plug of the satellite receiver hung up on one of the rungs, causing the cord to detatch. We found it later on.) We live on a busy street, but our yard backs on to forest which is now coming out in thick, tangled bramble - to get to the next cross-street up, he'd have had to skirt along this, exposed to view from half a dozen houses. How he managed it without getting spotted is a source of wonder, but this is what he must have done, unless he parked in our driveway. (You can't park on our street.) But this would be even more insane, given how exposed to traffic it is.

Anyhoo, I doubt very seriously that this guy will be back. He caught a very lucky break, did a botched job of taking advantage of it and fled in apparent panic. And the neighborhood is now on Red Alert. I'm sure our next door neighbor is staked out today with binoculars and telephoto lens at the ready.

As for what we do to prevent future occurrences, well, we can start by simply making sure to lock the damn doors. The Missus also wants to put in an alarm system, but I'm not sure it's worth the expense and bother. We'll have to look into that and do some serious cost/benefit analysis - those things are damned pricey. Plus, given all the power outages we have, the thing would be going off constantly, terrorizing one and all. However, the dog that several people mentioned is already scheduled for next summer. (Betcher I don't get any more argument against this from the Missus.)


Posted by Robert at April 20, 2005 10:05 AM

He was after the hard drive.

Posted by: Steve tlb at April 20, 2005 11:26 AM

Maybe in part, but if that were all he was after, I don't think he'd have bothered to unplug the entire surge-protector's worth of plugs and start arranging components to be hauled away.

Posted by: Robert the LB at April 20, 2005 11:56 AM

The harddrive? those things are so freakin cheap these days. I'd yank the cords out and just take the whole box. Like the part about the cord detaching from the satellite box, the crook(s) sound utterly pathetic. Six months hard labor for burglary, another 6 for being so damned stupid.
Reminds me of the time my truck got broken into and my book bag got swiped. Only things in it were my income tax law books.

Posted by: RobertJ at April 20, 2005 12:18 PM

Glad y'all are OK. Thanks for the update.

Posted by: JohnL at April 20, 2005 12:24 PM

Sounds like you guys are handling this really well, what with the 7 year-old bomb to diffuse and all. It's not fun to learn there's badness in the world but we all go through it sooner or later. What a yukky situation. Thank goodness you're all okay.

Posted by: willow at April 20, 2005 12:28 PM

Glad everyone is all right, though it is a violation that no one should have to go through. Sounds like a casual thief; a barking dog would certainly be sufficient to deter such things in the future.

Should that fail, remember these two words: punji sticks.

Posted by: The Colossus at April 20, 2005 02:06 PM

I'm relieved to hear that all's well. Bungler or no, it's creepy to think of an intruder in your house and in your things. I too get extra nervous when traveling-sales-van season rolls around. Brrrr!

Posted by: Chan S. at April 20, 2005 02:12 PM

I'd have to say that the appearance of an alarm system - a fair-sized sign at the curb that says you've got one, and fair-sized stickers on your doors and ground-floor windows that note the alarm system - is probably worth more than the system itself. The systems offer moderate response, and you can be sure to set it off just when you've forgotten the code.

What seemed to deter burglars in such neighborhoods as we have lived in include sturdy doors, perhaps a metal security screen of some sort, and maybe some decorative bars that cover the bottom part of the ground-floor windows if you feel window protection is necessary. Those things add to the value of your home and can be attractively done.

Again, glad you're okay. I like to think of such things as chances to get the statistical portion of my life out of the way, and get the odds on my side, since stuff will happen: if you take measures, the odds of anything happening again should be slim.

Posted by: tee bee at April 20, 2005 05:02 PM
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