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Don't Try This At Home

By Joe Hyde, Lawrence, Kansas

My eyes opened. Was I dreaming that, or did the front doorbell just ring? Nah, had to be a dream; go back to sleep.

Moments later it rang again. Groggy, I sat upright and checked my wristwatch glow dots. Time: 2:30 AM.

At such an hour the sound of a doorbell sends crashing into one's foggy mind a number of scenarios all of them bad as to why someone is standing outside in the dark wanting to talk with you.

After throwing on my pants I peeked out the front door's glass porthole strip and with help from a nearby streetlight saw a young man standing on my driveway. Behind him was parked a motorcycle. Probably the guy just ran out of gas or had a mechanical breakdown and needs to make a call. I opened the door and stepped outside.

"I hated to wake you up," he said, "but I think your garage just got burglarized."

"My garage?" Then it hit me. "Oh...HELL!"

I'd played a band gig the afternoon before. Upon arriving home I began unloading music gear from my truck bed when I felt wetness in a carpet piece that cushions my bass guitar amp. We'd had rain the day before (when my truck was parked outside) and the concrete garage floor was still damp with condensation. So this seemed an ideal time to dry things out. I pulled out the wet carpet piece and laid it on the driveway, leaving my truck's tailgate down and the Astro shell's hatch up. I left the garage door open so that fresh air and the late afternoon low angle sunlight could do their magic.

Then I'd walked inside the house, closed the kitchen entry door behind me and gotten engrossed with email messaging, watching a good movie on TV, taking two late night long distance phone calls, and cooking and eating dinner. Through all this domestic activity I'd completely forgotten about the garage door. It had been open all night.

"I live just around the corner, over there," my neighbor pointed, "I was coming home from work and spotted two guys on foot hurrying away from your house, and there was a car I've never seen here in the neighborhood before. A guy was sitting behind the wheel and he took off fast the second he saw me. I chased him and got the vehicle description and tag number. Then I drove back and saw that your garage door was up."

My garage door. Oh...HELL.

I went back inside, walked through the kitchen and opened the door leading to the garage and hit the lights, my stomach knotted with dread. The lights came on and the first thing I noticed missing was my bass guitar amp; it was gone from where I'd set it on the floor. Next, I looked at the nail board attached to the north wall. This is where I keep my fly tackle on standby. Missing were my Sage 00-wt. fly rod (with reel attached), my North Face fanny pack full of flies, leaders and many other accessories, and my Lowe Alpine mountaineering day pack. All gone.

A 9-1-1 call brought three police cruisers to the house in less than 90 seconds. One officer broadcast a citywide bulletin on the suspect vehicle's tag number and description. I described the items that had been stolen, estimating my loss at $1,500. This info went out over the air.

Four hours later I got a phone call from the police. They hadn't spotted the suspect vehicle on the streets during the first hour after the theft, so officers had gone to the residence associated with the vehicle's tag number. There the registered owner told officers that his son had the vehicle but he wasn't home just now. Unknown where he is, but probably he's in the company of his two best buddies. Further questioning of the registered owner brought to light that the two buddies are both avid fishermen.

Officers then went to the residence where the "two avid fishermen" live. The suspect vehicle was found parked there. It was still dark. Officers knocked and could hear people moving around inside but nobody answered the door.

At this point in the phone conversation I became excited and cut in with, "...so you called a judge, got a search warrant, then went through the door and got my stuff and they're all three in jail, right?"

"No. We can't just break down somebody's door and go in like that."

"I'm not talking about 'just breaking down somebody's door'. I mean getting a search warrant and THEN breaking down their door if they refuse to open it."

"No. All I had was a strong suspicion that these guys were the thieves. I didn't have "probable cause."

"Wait; I don't understand," I said, "At 2:30 AM an eyewitness sees two guys on foot running from my house, and a suspicious car is parked nearby, and the driver flees the scene upon discovery. The driver has two good buddies who are big fishermen. Fishing tackle is the bulk of what got stolen from my garage. Somebody steals my very best and most expensive fly rod, but leave behind two other fly rods of lesser value. And they stole my fanny pack full of flies and gear. Only an "avid fisherman" like that driver's two buddies would know the value of a Sage rod. If you had such strong suspicions, why didn't you wake up a judge and put the decision in his or her hands? You had these three guys cornered; why didn't you call a judge for a warrant?

"You know," I went on, getting more worked up by the second, "it's been in the news for six months how Lawrence is suffering a plague of home burglaries, each one just like mine? Someone forgets and leaves their garage door open or their car unlocked on the driveway and overnight they get hit. Never any suspects, but with me you had a tag number and vehicle description, a driver who flees the scene, you have the serial number of my fly rod and two excellent suspects who would have loved having a Sage rod.

"What does a burglar have to do to get arrested in this town leave a handwritten thank you note for the things he stole, along with two completed fingerprint cards and a framed photo? You had these guys caught in a virtual hot pursuit chase; hell, they were probably sitting there pawing through my fly boxes like kids on Christmas morning. I don't get it: Why didn't you call a judge for a warrant?"

During the following week, while attempting to get my burglary mentioned in the Tips Hotline (and that failed, too) I was told by local law enforcement officers that our city and county judges are uncooperative to the point of being hostile if they get roused from their beauty sleep by a phone call from officers urgently seeking search warrants. So in fairness, maybe that was the deciding factor that made the officers retreat from these suspects even though they strongly suspected that all my equipment and the thieves who stole it were right there just a few feet away.

This aggravated burglary was committed at a house I do not own; I am house-sitting it as a personal favor to its owner. Because I am not the policy holder the homeowners insurance could not cover me. And because the items taken were not stolen from the inside of my pickup truck my vehicle insurance doesn't cover me, either.

The main focus of my anger throughout this disaster has not been directed at the police or our local judges, or even the thieves, but on myself. I was the one who screwed up. If I had remembered to close the garage door before sunset there's no doubt in my mind that I would still have that bass amp and my Sage rig and all my gear.

I screwed up.

A couple of years ago my youngest son, who is in college, had his virtually brand new mountain bike stolen from in front of his apartment. The bike was snatched despite being secured to a deck rail with an extremely stout lock. He never asked his mother or me for help, but once he moved out of that apartment complex it was my great pleasure as his Dad to surprise him with a new bike to replace what had been stolen. Little did I know that my folks would do the same thing for me a week after I told them of my burglary. Thanks to their generosity I ordered a new Sage rod. My world is a better place once again now that I have a double-ought ultralight rig to carry into battle against panfish on my area lakes, ponds and streams.

I keep trying to let go of it but the anger lingers; it comes at odd times, sometimes hitting me in white hot waves (like when trying to write this story). My stolen rod's serial number was entered in the FBI's NCIC computer. Deanna Birkholm posted it in the FAOL Bulletin Board's STOLEN category. I've looked in various pawnshops for my rod and will check again in the future, periodically. Maybe it'll turn up. Or maybe someday afield I will encounter a certain avid fisherman using it. You never know. ~ Joe

About Joe:

From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer, now retired. In addition to fishing, he hunts upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe recently retired from the U.S. General Services Adminstration.

Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor sports, writing and music have never earned him any money, but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the former 'day job.'

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