Gone forever? Maybe not. After losing personal property when their vehicle was broken into, an amazing turn of events allowed for an unheard of chance to recovery their lost stuff by thieving from the thieves with the law on their side.

By William Campbell
September 8, 1993*

Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more law ought to weed it out.

— Francis Bacon
1561-1626

It’s clear to me that Mr. Bacon never had his horse-drawn carriage broken into and his personal affects stolen.

Without a Ouija board handy, let me just try to communicate with you Francis: It sucks!

I take theft very personally, probably more so than most people. It is a violation — an invasion — of my privacy and property that fills me with a rage I can barely control. It was just such a rage and sense of loss I felt as the nearly illiterate security guard — he couldn’t spell the word “pen” — at the Sherman Oaks Galleria dutifully took our information for his meaningless little theft report.

“Yours is the first car broken into in four months here,” he said. Wow, that really made me feel a whole lot better. I wanted to hear that my girlfriend’s truck was the third vehicle hit that day, but no, we were the first unlucky people out of the thousands that had parked in the galleria lot in a quarter of a year.

I quelled the desire to pull the guard’s cute little guard hat down over his eyes and proceeded to list the items that were now in the hands of some worthless, parasitic punk or punks. My wallet, my ID and credit cards, pictures of my daughter, my pager, my keys, my very favorite Montblanc writing pen, “That’s p-e-n, not p-i-n-n,” and countless other worthless and priceless items that would be impossible to replace. My girlfriend lost her backpack, her wallet with her ID and such, a 25th-anniversary edition of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and a two-cell Mag flashlight (high-brow thieves these weren’t). They made an attempt to yank out her CB radio, but must’ve gotten spooked before they could finish tearing it out of the dashboard.

All told, the property taken was valued at $800. And even though we filed a report the the LAPD, realistically, we held next to no hope of recovery. But then came the call at 3 a.m. on Monday three days after the crime from an officer with the Long Beach Police Department telling me they had confiscated our drivers licenses and other ID from an apartment in Long Beach.

Long Beach?

The arresting office gave me the story. A 911 call had come in from a young Latino male who claimed he was sick. When paramedics arrived on the scene the caller was in pretty bad shape. He admitted to smoking some pot, but the attending doctors at the hospital knew that the young man’s condition was caused my far more than just marijuana and contacted the police to recover whatever other drugs might be in his apartment. Obtaining a consent form from the suspect as he lay in the hospital, officers entered the apartment where they found what they termed “primo cigarettes,” or marijuana laced with cocaine. They also found a box of IDs and credit cards, mine and my girlfriend’s among them. After the suspect was released from the hospital he was arrested and booked into jail for possession of a controlled substance.

Groggy and incredulous, I asked the officer if any other of my items were recovered, explaining the theft that had taken place in Sherman Oaks. Upon asking me to describe some of my items: my pager, my backpack, et cetera, the officer told me that he remembered seeing a pager and a bag that matched the description.

Now stop a minute with me here. As far as I’m concerned recovering anything from car thieves is about as easy as placing your head inside a jelly jar using a jackhammer. But to locate the stuff 30 miles away and in only three days? A miracle, plain and simple.

But I didn’t have my property back yet, and for a day or two while the suspect stewed in jail I went back and forth with both Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments trying to figure out when I would get it back. An LAPD detective told me that though the property had been identified in the suspect’s apartment, there was no way to connect him to the actual theft. Translation: Not gonna do it, not gonna care.

I wasn’t through yet, but time was getting really short. With the suspect due to be released the next day a Long Beach gang-detail detective told me it would take at least two days for a search warrant to be issued. And there was another surprise, the suspect was a gangbanger reputedly of the westside “Longos,” the largest gang operating in Long Beach with some 3,500 members. Who’d’ve thought that, right?

I was getting desperate. I could taste the satisfaction of denying the criminal the spoils of his crime, but the detective said the suspect refused to sign a second search consent and was certain the moment the scumbag got home from jail, he would clean house — big time — and our stuff would be lost.

But then the break came. As an aside I had suggested to the detective that he let us come with him on a search of the apartment to aid him. After all, we knew our stuff better than anyone else, right? After a minute or two on hold he came back on the line. “OK,” he said, “be here tomorrow at 7 a.m.” My girlfriend and I were nervous and excited as well. The detective wasn’t sure when the suspect was to be released, so we figured we might be cutting it close. And then another break. The detective was able to contact the building’s owner who was trying to evict the suspect and agreed to make the premises available.

We showed up at the station and the detective briefed us on the ride over to the suspect’s apartment. None of the items recovered could be used as evidence. This was an illegal search and seizure, with the detective banking on usage of the original consent form for the drug search that was expired. In essence, with the aid of the police we were thieving from the thief. An eye for an eye, all under the watchful and consenting protection of the law.

The owner showed up five tension-filled minutes late and let us in, no questions asked. My pager and bookbag and our wallets were sitting in plain view on the bed. My Montblanc p-e-n was in her bookbag. We found Ayn Rand in the trash, along with my keys, the pictures of my daughter and every other worthless and priceless item we had lost, save for a cheap pair of sunglasses.

Before we left I couldn’t resist writing the punk a note with my Montblanc pen that I pinned to the fridge thanking him for making it so easy to get our stuff back and inviting him to go fuck off and die.

Once back at the station we squared everything with the detective, thanking him profusely for his law-skirting assistance. Then we zoomed back up to Los Angeles, high-fiving each other and wishing we could see the gangbanger’s face when he enters the apartment only to find he’s been robbed.

And so much for Bacon’s opinion, at least in this case. Revenge may be an adrenalin rush best shut down by the law, but with the law on your side, revenge is too sweet to pass up. I mean after all, what’s the punk going to do, call the police?

* Originally published in the L.A. Pierce College Roundup when Will was its editor-in-chief.