The Burglary Blog - Part II alluded to a burglary a week or so ago. I've kept this secret (and threatened any and all who knew) from my family, not because I wanted to keep them from knowing but rather to keep them from worrying. Since I have moved, I have nearly mentioned it on phone calls but felt it would be received better in person. The recent visit with my mom, sister and cousin gave me an opportunity. Oddly, the subject came up one night during our many talks and I segued into the story. As I told them to alleviate any concerns before I told it--it has a happy ending. I wasn't targeted personally but randomly (such odds should be granted on a lottery ticket instead!).
The day started like any other at the rental house a couple of years ago. The exception to the day was Debbie coming to do the yardwork and me needing to leave the gate unlocked for her access. I also taped an envelope to the door with a check for her (significant to the story later).
When I came home, I noticed the gate to the back left open. Not too unusual. Debbie's workers occasionally forgot to close and padlock it. I did that and went to the house. As I turned the key, I realized the door was unlocked. I thought it odd but thought I might have forgotten to lock it because I was taping the envelope to the door and might have rushed. I opened the door and immediately noticed the hall closet door open. Odd, I thought, but figured I looked for something in there right before I left and forgot to close it. As I walked in I noticed the drawers in the side-table in the living room also open. Odd, I thought, I must have really been looking for something to leave those open as well as the door. I'm an admitted slob but generally close doors and drawers to avoid injury. Best I remember some drawers were also open in the kitchen but I don't recall. Many people have asked why I didn't suspect anything by this point but I think like grief or injury we tend to dismiss something so scary as a break-in and keep trying to explain anything unusual with usual behavior.
It became obvious when I entered my bedroom. The sliding glass door was out of the tracks and lying outside. I had had a portable air conditioner panel in the door so it wasn't locked but well braced to eliminate anyone being able to push it open. Apparently that wasn't needed since the old sliding doors have such a shallow track, anyone can lift the door out of the track to break in (might consider a door replacement if your tracks are old-style and shallow--the replacement door had deep tracks that prevent this from happening). I remember standing in shock--too stunned to move. Again, I was asked why I didn't fear the people were still in the house but by this time I was completely in the house and it was too late to worry about that!!
I started walking around trying to determine what was stolen. TVs were left behind. VCRs and DVD players too. Other small electronics like clocks, etc. I went into the living room and immediately noticed the laptop was gone. So was a very ancient PDA I used for an RSA device because it was backlit and would allow me to see the RSA numbers without a light or lamp. Oddly, a small digital camera was lying right beside the laptop table--and was left behind.
As I started walking around looking at drawers I saw money left in the drawers. Odd. Not a lot of money granted but still--put a dollar in your pocket, right? Digital camera--easy to pocket too. That's when I started freaking about identity theft. The laptop seemed an obvious giveaway since it was missing and most other items were not. Remembering Debbie's check was gone, I called her first to ask if she had been there and what time. She had come but was unable to work so she'd grabbed the check and left. The gate wasn't left open by her but by the burglars. Also odd that they spent all of that time lifting the door when most of the house was glass and the doors nearly all glass--seems easier to pop a pane and reach in than lifting a door...but, what do I know about burglars and their thinking?
The next call was 911. I had no phone book since I never use them (now I keep one for such emergencies). The first questions were "are you in danger or are the burglars still there?" Once I indicated no on both accounts I was given a number to call for the police. I called and got a detective. He told me he would be out soon. Since then I have heard this is quite unusual for a small theft--mostly they take down information via phone and that's it. I'm not sure if it was because it was Lake Oswego and the police are a bit better there or what, but he came out and we walked around the house together and talked about what was missing. He also took some fingerprints off the A/C panel that they might have touched when removing it. Finally he left and it was dark.
I spent more time calling the bank, credit card company, etc. concerned about website security on the laptop since most of what I do I do on the internet. Some assured me of locked down security and others changed passwords for me to make sure no one would access my bank or credit card information (or email). Since all of my identity was with me and credit cards as well, I didn't feel the need to stop any payments but put them on alert. I also double-checked stored checks since I've heard they will go into the middle of a checkbook and take checks because we tend to look at the top check and feel safe if it is there. No missing checks.
I also called the property management company to report the theft and to get help securing the house. The door was ruined and would have to be replaced so they nailed up board to secure the house until the door replacement could be scheduled.
To say I was freaked is an understatement. I was scared to death and I was mad too. I felt violated and wondered where the thieves had been and what they had touched or looked at. If you talk to anyone who has had their house broken into you will hear the same story. I started washing clothes and bed linens and towels in an obsession to remove any part of someone touching these things. I scrubbed counters and threw out any item in the fridge that was open or accessible. The thoughts of someone drinking out of a milk-carton or bottle in the fridge sickened me and I couldn't touch any of it again. Only sealed items were left behind.
The disgust over being violated was laced with anger. Anger that someone thought they had a right to do this to me. Anger that I felt scared in my own house and terrified to stay there for the night. I seriously considered going to a hotel for the night (keep this one in mind for later) but got even angrier that someone was forcing me to leave and terrified to leave at the same time. The dark around the house was ominous to me. And I started to ask "why?" Why me? I don't look like I have money and the house I lived in certainly didn't say "money"--why was I targeted.
The first thought was Debbie's workers. They had access to the yard and would see the laptop in the living room from the deck. Even if not one of them--maybe they told someone. I hated believing that but it was my first thought--access and visibility in the house. Then, I thought about the neighborhood. Maybe teens or 20'ish young folks watching and obviously noting I lived alone and as the detective mentioned had a very predictable schedule each day--they would observe me coming and going. That freaked me out. Someone out there watching me all the time. Lastly I remembered the multiple keys to the door laying on the pantry shelf in the kitchen. What if they had taken one before they left? They would have easy access to the house.
I finally slept but slept in the living room closer to the door and fitfully--starting at every sound. It was a long night. This was on a Tuesday. End Part I.