Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Normal Crime

A Facebook friend of mine just got her house broken into and her purse stolen. She’s dealing with all the feelings of anger, loss and violation. It’s an “everyday” crime that in many overtaxed police departments gets very little attention.

There’s often little chance that the stolen items will be recovered, little chance that they will catch the people who did it. It’s only property, they say. It’s more of course, but so often the thing you lose in a situation like that can’t be brought back, like your sense of safety and peace of mind or your faith in your fellow human beings.

Yes, the police are right of course. It could be worse. She could have been there, been hurt in a much more violent crime. It’s small consolation at the time. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to know where to direct your anger when you don’t know who did it.

Before I met him, the Hubs suffered a similar crime. While he was out, someone broke into the cottage where he lived, stole family heirlooms and, inexplicably, set fire to the cottage. His cats died in the fire. Why set the fire? Why kill the cats? Why not just take the stuff and go? I didn’t even know those cats and my heart aches at the thought of someone doing that in my home, to my little critters. I miss the Molly and Garfield I never knew.

Even after we met while the Hubs still had his cottage, we went out briefly to shop for our Football Pool Dinner and while we were at the grocery store, someone who wore athletic shoes with a distinctive pattern kicked in the door and stole what little was left of value. At least that time, the cats, the ones who replaced those who died, were left alive.

No one was hurt? Hardly true. My friend lost photographs she hadn’t downloaded. My husband lost his precious pets and family pieces that he would have liked giving to his nephews. I hope the people who did these things get prosecuted for something, even if it isn’t this specific crime.

My own brushes with senseless crimes were thankfully harmless to me physically. My first job out of college had me working in an attorney’s office. Our office specialized in wills, trust and real estate and the most unsavory characters in the office were often long-standing clients with big ideas about a real estate deal. While we didn’t handle many criminal cases, we did enthusiastically read the newspapers and occasionally listen to the radio. When something spectacularly silly happened in the crime section, we hooted with glee and with our honed, imaginative and some legal minds we Monday morning quarterbacked the latest stupid criminal antics.

My favorite stupid crime was The Bank Job. Two or three kids sought to rob one of the local banks in our smallish down in southern Illinois and made a dash for the county line. They never made it that far. They were apprehended with the loot and charged appropriately. It wasn’t that they didn’t drive a fast getaway car. It’s just that it was maroon, with large fins in the rear and had “Devils” painted on it.

If they wanted to be famous, they made it, at least for a week or two. They were famous for being unable to sneak across the county line with any subtlety. As I recall, no one was hurt. You can’t count the stitches in our sides as injuries.

By far the most remarkable stupid criminal encounter was the time I had my wallet stolen out of my car.

OK, I admit, there’s some element of the stupid victim here. So I confess that I left my purse wide open on the front seat of my car with the windows rolled down and the doors unlocked on a summer afternoon. I had run to the back of my landlord-boyfriend’s Victorian house, one last trip while we were finishing up a repair/restoration to ready the house for the coming fall semester and the new houseful of irresponsible and destructive college boys who would nearly gut the house by the end of the college year. While in the back, picking up keys or whatever, the criminals stole my wallet out of my purse.

This all seems normal. Except, of course, that this was Normal, Illinois. It’s a name that sets up false expectations at best.

Stuff happened in Normal that you didn’t expect. While I lived in southern Illinois, I grew used to college students abandoning their pedigreed dogs into packs of roving aristocrats of all shapes and sizes. I grew used to it but could never stomach it. But in Normal, the variation on that theme took a different flavor. The college boys in one of the landlord/boyfriend’s houses abandoned their pet who hid somewhere in the rambling house after escaping his usual quarters. The boys left for home, unable to find it until it showed up on the sofa one day. You just don’t expect a large boa constrictor on a sofa in an empty house.

Another time and at another landlord’s house, the kids having the party on the second floor got into boogying rhythm to Love Shack or whatever and danced the second floor right down on top of the first floor, collapsing the inside of the house. That was Normal.

So in the reddening sunset back at my car I realized my wallet had been lifted and I cursed the idiot who stole it and the idiot who left her purse in her open car. The good news is they caught the guys.

It seems that two traveling Bible salesmen from Texas (nope, you can’t make this stuff up) had fallen on bad times. The older black gentleman had convinced his younger and considerably dumber blond compadre to grab the wallet and while at the nearest gas station they gassed up where Dumbo the Blondie used my credit card and my driver’s license as identification and attempted to forge my name.

These two masterminds got as far as Peoria, due to the quick thinking of the gas station manager who had the cool to accept the transaction without confronting them or pointing out that Blondie sure didn’t look like a Marcia and to write down their license plate. Like the traditional “book meaning” of the 7 of Swords, they thought they got away with it.

After almost enjoying a sandwich and a beer at a motel coffee shop, they were arrested and charged. The older guy got off with time served once they had spent maybe 30 days in jail awaiting trial with no bail to post because he never actually signed anything, but the younger guy had made the error of signing my name to compound his petty theft with a felony, forgery.

They had made phone calls to Alabama on my long distance card and they had tossed my nice wallet and my favorite photos out of the window somewhere between Normal and Peoria. I could never drive that road again without hoping for a glint of brightly colored oxblood leather and the photographs I would never see again.

Lock your car. Take your keys. And watch out for those Bible salesmen from Texas.

Best wishes.


  1. I love your blog and your thoughtful posts laced with humor and philosophy.
    My sister lives in Bloomington and she gets a lot of mileage out of the fact she's the one closest to Normal. It's only geography, though. It's funny how we learn the sad way that it's only money and it's only stuff. The loss is of memories, pictures, pets and sense of safety. We then have to learn to trust and hope again in the midst of lingering regret and loss. Thanks, Marcia.

    1. Haha, I lived in Normal for a few months, but oddly, I didn't fit in!