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My relentless pursuit of the guy who robbed me (salon.com)
276 points by michael_dorfman on Sept 21, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments

I did some amateur sleuthing as well, but unfortunately the most high tech thing I used was a zoom lens on a digital camera.

You see, my neighbourhood thief was knocking off pot plants and outdoor furniture. I saw him walking up the road several times with these items, but the guy looked like a 'roid rager so I wasn't about to start asking questions and figued he might be moving house locally.

But then he made the mistake of knocking off one of my plants, a delicate specimen I'd taken months to get going. And he was silly enough to put it in his window across the road.

I got some snaps of him, the plant, and dug through my photos to find one of the same plant in it's original location to show it was mine.

I took the lot down to the police station and handed it over. They couldn't believe it - and promptly drove straight around, knocked on the door and found an apartment full of stolen goods.

He was wanted for assault, had tipped a pool table onto someone in a drunken fight, was already on probation.

I had to go to court to give evidence and tell my story while this meathead stared at me. It was quite unnerving.

But he went away to jail and I've since moved, so now it's just a story to be told. The detective told me he wished all cases could be that easy.

How civilized to live in a country where criminals enjoy gardening as much as everyone else. I'm guessing that you live in England.

An architect/sculptor friend in Mexico was burglarized once, and when he came home ran gleefully from room to room to find out which sculpture the thieves had preferred. When he found out they’d only taken a couple radios and a TV, he was crestfallen.

Close, but think more southern hemisphere but still with a love of cricket.

Believe it or not but plant theft is a problem. Easy to sell at a market, no markings, no trace, and people aren't suspicious.

Got it. Good on ya mate.

Given that you gave a photo of your "pot plant" to the police, I'm going to assume that it was not what I first thought it was....

Depends on where he lives.

No, a plant in a pot. Not some pot, well, growing in a pot. It was (still is) a Jasmine plant, grown from a cutting taken off some beautiful old gardens that got cleared away in a development.

Seems like the brc meant "potted plant"

It's a British usage

This highlights the value of contingency planning and tenacity.

With the suspect's photo in the McDonald's, the police might have been able to find him, and convict him for possession of stolen property, especially with his criminal history. But the author wasn't done! She turned his email address into his complete online identity. This provided an extra link to the crime, the stolen GPS, and some extra supporting information, like the comment on MySpace about hitting the lottery. She made life easy for the police by finding the suspect's name. She stopped the case from falling through the cracks, and gave the police enough leverage to get a guilty plea.

This is why I don't believe (very strongly) in luck. Many facets of the case were fortunate: the Craigslist ad, the email reuse, the McDonalds surveillance picture, the MySpace profile, etc. But she was given multiple trails of breadcrumbs that she followed to their inevitable conclusion.

Does this illustrate the value of contingency planning, though?

It doesn't seem as though the author had any prior experience tracking down a thief, or that she was executing a pre-existing plan when she eventually needed to.

Instead, she relied on her adaptability and her general base of knowledge to deal with a new contingency as it arose, without advance preparation.

If anything, the lesson here is to maintain your capacity to decide and act on the fly, and make use of whatever opportunities the situation affords, instead of trying to predict the unpredictable.

You could say that she was relentlessly resourceful.

Oh, she was lucky, all right. She didn't have to go to the BMV to replace her driver license.

"Given Johnny's dozen tattoos, given his weakness for skank, I made a leap -- and assumed he was on MySpace"

"If I were mathematically inclined, I might even observe that in my tale, the good guys outnumbered the bad guys, by about 10 to one."

An amazing ending to an incredibly interesting and well-written piece. That's just how I think about the world - so much more good than bad. It's a shame most articles seem to focus only on the bad!

> "By now it was Friday afternoon, and Inspector Vargas does not work weekends or Mondays, thanks to the California state budget cuts."

The movies would have you believe that detectives work around the clock and would do anything and everything to catch a crook. Rude awakening.

Seems like a lot of crimes must go unsolved because of this - time just seems like such a critical aspect of a lot of cases.

> The movies would have you believe that detectives work around the clock and would do anything and everything to catch a crook.

Well, to be fair, movies tend to deal with international espionage, zillions of dollars of diamonds/gold/cash/whatever, heinous murders, nuclear weapons, and things of that ilk, rather than stolen GPS devices.

You are watching the wrong shows. The Wire addresses this exact problem, and many other similar problems in the police, school systems, news rooms, etc...

From what I've seen, most small crimes do go unsolved, at least in areas where the police have more to do than sit behind a corner waiting for speeders.

Petty theft is typically (AIUI) dealt with by giving the victim a copy of a police report for use with the insurance company, and then dropping the original into a file cabinet.

Sorry, but a crime like this does no involve the criminal getting a new passport and leaving town in 2 days time.

FWIW, this is completely the opposite of what pg suggests:


Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I've found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn't deserve space in my head.

I think the motivation is important. In this case, there was the desire to stop the perpetrator from hurting others, so taking some time to pursue the case was driven (in part) by compassion, and not merely revenge.

Ignoring injuries is a great practice, if the injury is not likely to be inflicted, again and again, on others.

That is the short sighted view though. If everyone always turns the other cheek then there is little consequence to hurting or screwing others, which then reinforces the wrong-doers behaviors and perhaps even encourages others to join in. Within reason, one should always make it clear that certain actions are simply not acceptable and that there are clear consequences for those actions. If not for your self, it may save someone else from that same injustice.

The long term results of action vs. inaction will always have an impact on society as a whole and on one's personal quality of life; it just might not immediately noticeable.

If however, one is driven solely by revenge then it might cause one to expend way too many resources or cause one to take things too far but, still, intention has little effect on the external impact of an action.

This is referred to in behavioral economics as the "second-order free-rider problem", and is an active area of research, e.g. http://www.cirano.qc.ca/ee/ESA2005/papers/Kiyonari.pdf

You'd need clarification from pg himself, but I always took that more metaphorically and in a business/startup sense. I think there is a certain amount of personal strength to be gained from going vigilante on a small time crook and turning them over to the cops. We feel best when we feel the most control over our personal circumstances.

Yeah, especially in context (discussing Newton getting sucked into the age-of-letters equivalent of flamewars), it seems to refer more to turning the other cheek when people attack your work, post unpleasant replies on an email thread, maybe even copy your startup ideas, etc., rather than turning the other cheek when someone burglarizes your house.

Tracking down someone like this is great fun for a normal hacker I think.

This doesn't really seem to apply to theft.

Otherwise, you wouldn't mind if I stole your car.

Tucked into this tale is also a cautionary warning: be careful about what you post online. In this particular case I applaud the victim on her tenacity and the thief was a not-very-tech-savvy person. However if the roles were reversed and the offender was the tech savvy one, imagine the havoc that could be wrought on someones life.

See: 4chan

It strikes me that people who are bothered by theft in the modern age just haven't got the whole digital revolution on quite a profound level. She lists the things that bothered her as "the BlackBerry with contact information for dear old friends, the wedding anniversary wallet that her husband bought her when she finished chemo, stuffed with about two years' worth of love letters from her toddlers, hopeful doctors' notes, and other scraps of paper she couldn't bear to part with".

The wallet itself I kind of get, but the rest is just data. With a ScanSnap and an iDrive account, the stuff that matters becomes so many electrons in the grid. Send the bits of dead tree off to Iron Mountain, insure your gadgets and stop worrying.

I think it's a sort of zen exercise, separating sentiment from utility. If suffering really is caused by attachment to transient things, then it seems to me that we have a truly unique opportunity to break attachments wholesale, at little or no cost. Keep your bits in the cloud and treat your atoms as if they're borrowed (which ultimately they are).

If we really want to reduce crime, locking people up isn't going to help - we have decades of recidivism as proof. There's no such thing as deterrent, not for people with chaotic childhoods who never developed self control or long-term thinking. If I'm robbed from, it's my fault, because I haven't done enough for the people in society with lives so crappy that petty theft seems like an attractive career.

Here in the UK, the average prison inmate is functionally illiterate, mentally ill and addicted to drink or drugs. One in ten is psychotic and one in five has attempted suicide. I imagine the numbers are much the same in the US. I see a lot of comments in this thread about preventing crime, about punishment and deterrent. If it worked, why is recidivism so high? Is the best we can do just locking people up?

I disagree with the parent, but I'm disappointed to see so many people voting their agreement with a comment, not with whether the comment is valuable or not. You guys can take that attitude back to reddit, please (yes, I've been hear more than a year...).

Regarding the comment, the problem is that the "data" is more than the actual pixels on the scraps of paper. The data includes the knowledge that the scraps were actually held by the giver. The data includes a part of the relationship that is embodied by the the scraps of paper. A digital version would never replace that.

If you are robbed, it is not your fault. While I agree that our current efforts aren't working and really need to be re-evaluated (unfortunately, that always falls on idiotic, extremist "hang them all" or "give them a kiss and tell them it's all right" politics), when you are robbed, it is always somebody else's fault, even if you left the garage open and the car unlocked.

Excusing others' illegal actions will never make the problem go away, and there will always be sociopaths who believe they deserve what they take. They will never have permission to take from me.

You need to read the next rest of the sentence and the next:

that person would probably prefer you just dump it all in the trash. Because finding fragments of your private life on people's yards and scattered on the street, in the shrubs and gutters, is a unique kind of psychological torment. Suddenly a routine violation starts to feel really personal.

She wasn't upset about the stuff being stolen, she was upset about the stuff lying all over the neighborhood for the world to see. She felt violated and exposed.

The proper digital analogy is having your "bits in the cloud" hacked and posted on a public website for all the world to see.

The proper digital analogy is having your "bits in the cloud" posted on a public website for all the world to see.

So, you mean Facebook.

Have you ever been robbed? Also, it sounds like the "transient things" were the things that helped her get through chemo. Have you every gone through that?

I agree... being robbed induces sharp feelings of rage and helplessness that don't fade for a long time. That said, I voted the grandparent up (from -1) because there are a couple good points in there.

> The wallet itself I kind of get, but the rest is just data

how insensitive. No wonder some people find we hacker/geek types so unlikeable.

I definitely read the opinion as more buddhist than geek.

I know what you're getting at (non-attachment and all), but also remember that the Buddhist position is one of compassion, even for those not practicing non-attachment.

The best we can do is lock people up for longer periods of time -- at least for crimes with victims (robbery, murder, assault, rape, etc...).

It isn't actually clear that that reduces crime, though, if you're advocating it from a utilitarian perspective (as opposed to advocating longer prison sentences as morally justified punishment, which is a different argument). For example, doing the opposite, releasing people early under various kinds of early-release and parole programs, generally doesn't appear to increase either crime rates or recidivism rates, at least in any studies I can find. And increasing sentence length also rarely has a statistically significant effect on either crime rates or recidivism rates. One alternative that does seem to often have an effect is increasing policing, i.e. increase the probability of being caught rather than the severity of the punishment if caught. (Doubling the sentence length and doubling the being-caught probability each has the same effect on an "expected years of prison for committing this crime" computation, but they seem to have different deterrent effects.)

I just meant that if we keep people who have demonstrated they are violent in jail longer, that should keep them off of the streets. My assumption was that in jail they'd commit less crimes -- at least on people who weren't in jail.

If every person who commited a violent crime went to jail for life, would that reduce violent crime? I feel like it would, although I have no evidence of it.

I know HN etiquette dictates that my comment should add something to the conversation, otherwise a simple upvote will suffice, but I have nothing to add: I just wanted to state that this story is awesome.

OK, maybe a few things to add. Snarks would point out that this was overkill, that insurance would have covered most of it (most of it was recovered anyway) and self-sleuthing can lead to dangerous situations. But as someone who's had their house robbed several times, a modern tale of vengeance well-told is much appreciated.

> Snarks would point out that this was overkill, that insurance would have covered most of it (most of it was recovered anyway) and self-sleuthing can lead to dangerous situations.

Possibly true. But nothing is as cathartic as personally tracking down the person that wronged you.

What are you going to do? Kill them? Maim them? Bring it out in blood equity? Or some sort of "bringing them to justice?"

Its just stuff. You never know what the motivations they had for doing it. It could have done all sorts of good, at a cost of some personal sacrifice. Is it wrong? Society says so. But personal "justice" is just as extreme.

And yes, I have had things stolen from me.

> What are you going to do? Kill them? Maim them? Bring it out in blood equity? Or some sort of "bringing them to justice?"

Its almost like you didn't read the story or something.

You never know what the motivations they had for doing it. It could have done all sorts of good, at a cost of some personal sacrifice.

Or the person could be serial thief relying on the stolen goods to avoid work and with an aptitude to participate in other criminal activities. Just like he was.

So you are saying it is OK to steal from me if your motives are pure? That's BS. Expecting people to obey the law is not "personal justice", it is just justice.

In considering the benefits of what she did, you also have to take into account the crimes this guy will not commit while in jail.

Unfortunately, that doesn't really counteract the new skills he will learn while in jail. :/

So we should just let him romp around, stealing what he feels like? I'm all for improving jails (and not filling them with people busted for drugs), but this guy sounds like he ought to be spending some time in a facility where he is not at liberty to steal people's things, however it's run. Like others have noted, he was already on probation for some other crime, which is likely what got him locked up, not simply stealing the GPS.

Distinguishing those cases is the trick, I suppose. Especially for first-time offenders, there are people who might be deterred from future offenses by being put on probation, once they've realized that they got caught and had better knock it off, who would instead turn into more hardened criminals if they're put in jail (and, with the current state of U.S. jails, likely end up joining a prison gang). But there are other people who have to physically be restrained from committing more crimes.

The current common sentence lengths don't seem that useful to me, though. Sentences like 6-36 months are just about the worst I can think of, keeping someone in jail just long enough to inculcate all the negative effects, while not actually keeping them off the streets that long. It creates this odd revolving-door mentality, where in some communities it's completely common to be in and out of prison, and everyone's got a bunch of criminals in their social circle. Now we could just lock all those same people up for 20+ years and not let them back out of prison to reoffend, but that seems like a problematic solution as well, given the current numbers (you'd have to be prepared to permanently lock up a large proportion of the population).

One start might be to start basing policy on empirical data. Can we find patterns in which kinds of policies have deterrent or anti-deterrent effects on which kinds of people? My impression is that laws and sentencing are not very strong based on empirical research currently. It does occasionally get brought up in debates, but the stuff written into the laws seems mostly pulled out of a hat.

I've always thought that a policy of repayment would be both the fairest and most deterrent policy. Jail time should be dependent not on time spent but on time to repayment. Theft should be considered a debt. Repayment of that debt should be worked off.

If thieves could count on having to do real work to repay debt that would both reduce the incentive to steal and possibly reduce sentence lengths for some cases. Spend several months working off a debt for a petty theft and room and board at the prison and that job at McDonalds starts looking a little better. Maybe even that GED.

The goal should be lower incentives for theft, raise incentives for real work and a clear demonstration to the thieves that their sentence is tied to the value of the stolen item.

This obviously doesn't apply in cases of physical violence or murder but for the cases you seem to be focusing on in your discussion I think it's superior to straight time based term.

I do like the idea of repayment, but in practice, can most people in jails really earn any money with which to repay? Seems like there aren't that many unskilled jobs around anymore, especially ones that can take place inside of jail.

Just because there aren't now doesn't mean there can't be. Even if it's make work it might still fill the bill.

I'm not totally knowledgable about insurance, but I'm pretty sure if you leave the car door unlocked (or apartment door for that matter), insurance doesn't cover the theft. There needs to be some sort of forced entry, as far as I remember.

I left my car unlocked and accidentally left the garage door up. I lost the stereo from the car, and suffered a lot of console damage as well. I had two surfboards, some tools and a set of CD's stolen. It was all completely my fault for bumping the garage door remote (I now leave it in the car, always).

The insurance company paid up, both for the household items taken, and the car insurance for the stolen stereo and damaged interior. In fact, with the new-for-old policy, I got replacements on some old stuff with nice new items.

The takeaway is : check your policy. You want to insure against loss and stupidity.

If you lived in a bad enough neighborhood and had an insurance policy like that, "accidentally" leaving your doors unlocked would be a cheap and easy insurance fraud--which is why some insurers are reluctant to cover people in that situation.

Well I always live in good neighbourhoods, so I guess the insurers don't mind in my case. My current policy also covers theft of items stored outside the house - bikes, ladders, furniture, etc.

Sometimes it's not always cheaper to live in bad areas, when you add up the total cost of living.

What stood out to me was this comment: "Dude!!! How do you not work? You win the freak'n lotto???"

So maybe the criminals often don't even realize that what they do is actual work?

Here's my short "Internet investigation" story:

late at night I found a wallet on the pavement and decided to deliver it myself the following day since the address on the driver's license was very close to my place.

Next day I discover the guy moved. But with some of his info, I found the Google cache of an old Craigslist ad he had posted, that gave me his phone number. He was pretty happy.

I can't imagine anyone who lives in SF ever leaving anything visible in the car. Even leaving spare change or an old blanket in the back seat causes people to break in within hours (causing damage to the vehicle far in excess of any value of property stolen). One of the worst parts of SF. Contrasted with most Gulf Arab countries where I felt comfortable leaving $10k+ in equipment in unlocked vehicles parked for days.

We don't cut off the hands of thieves here...

> I ran his e-mail address through a reverse e-mail finder, which cost me about 15 bucks for a month's worth of "surveillance."

Can anyone enlighten me on what she means?

There are a number of paid services on the net where you give them an email address and they slurp up all the information out there associated with that person.

http://www.spokeo.com is one of many and might be the one used in the article, though Spokeo gives you 3 months for your $15.

How do they find out what you've used your email address for? Do they buy that info from the websites?

I don't know anything about Spokeo, but Rapleaf uses the APIs of various services, and when that isn't enough, they screen scrape.

> Rapleaf uses the APIs of various services

Those APIs expose people's email addresses?

Yes. If you already know someone's email address, you can get all sorts of information about them from twitter, fB, amazon wishlists...anything where the user's account is keyed to an email address.

So... isn't there something in user agreements that avoids this sort of thing? Maybe I should read it closer, but I would expect "will not sell my email address to third parties" would be a common clause. And if it wasn't, I'd expect some sort of consumer backlash.

Sorry for the line of questions, this is sortof a jolt to my view of reality.

They aren't selling the email address to third parties - they are letting them access the information for free.

Rapleaf.com offers similar services. With just an email address you can find "Demographics, Influence, Interests, Social media memberships, Occupation, and much more."[1]

[1]: http://www.rapleaf.com/developers/api_overview

Even more of a reason to use disposable email addresses.

Google would own if they popped out a product like this. Of course that would never happen because then Google would then be admitting to what we all already know.

...that they store your information in order to be able to advertise to you better? This doesn't need admitting to.

This would be a good outline of a response to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1705467

She posts with her real name and full details of the case. What if the guy does the same thing she did when he is out of prison?

Then he goes back to prison, this time for 25 to life?

If he's caught. He could even do it while in prison.

You watch too much TV.

Where's he going to get the money? That GPS he stole didn't resell for much...

What money? He could ask a favor from his buddies, provided of course he has the same revengeful mentality as the victim. This is quite unlikely but still works as a deterrent for many people that would otherwise take similar actions as the victim. A solution to this problem might help in the battle against crime. Just to give an idea, something like an e-testimony with a digital certification that can be connected to the person's identity details only from qualified public servants.

So his friend is going to risk 20 years in prison just to get revenge?

This guy has already been in prison; he got caught stealing and was sent back to finish his first sentence. Not everyone is the mafia don that you see on Law & Order. This guy probably has no connections and no money. Which means he has to do his dirty work himself.

And after two years in prison, I doubt a direct ticket back is his first priority.

Statistics would argue with you. Most sources put the proportion of repeat violent crime offenders at around 60%.

If you're in jail for theft and then beat the person who got you arrested senseless with a baseball bat, that doesn't make you a repeat violent crime offender.

Of course, the article doesn't elaborate on what his previous sentence was, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it was theft, fencing, scams or fraud etc. and not violence.

I disagree, not with the stats, but with the idea that the stats imply in any way that she could be at additional risk. Conventional wisdom (I'm surprised by the lack of data around this topic) is that most people re-offend because they have no real connections with people anymore and can't find reasonable employment.

Of course, she could be the lottery winner, finding the guy who was looking for a reason to become the next serial killer, but that is unlikely.

In fact, it is highly unlikely the guy will ever come across this article. He doesn't seem the type to google his own name.

A guy who is ripping off backpacks from unlocked cars isn't in the mafia or the Yakuza: He doesn't have a group of thugs to call upon. And I doubt he takes it terribly personally -- rip people off and you'll get burned eventually. Acting hurt and vindictive about it seems pretty foolish.

I'm extremely surprised that the police paid any attention to this: Keeping valuables -- well, not really valuables -- in an unlocked car...that just doesn't fit the bill of the sort of crime that the police will even show up to your place for a statement. That the officer(s) actually put in legwork, and the justice system carried out a sentence, makes it almost hard to believe.

I'm all for vengeance but it just seems ironic and unfortunate that Johnny Boi will almost inevitably get out of prison sometime in the next 2 years more hardened and better equipped to be a complete fuckup, undoubtedly progressing to even stupider but possibly more violent and disruptive crimes. Just saying.

So, the better option for dealing this thief would be...?

Community service. Monitored parole. Work programs...

The guy stole a backpack from an unlocked car with visual valuables. Police in my area once tried to make it a crime to have visible valuables inside of a vehicle, locked or not, because it encouraged crimes of opportunity by casual criminals. It essentially wasted their time.

This guy wasn't going to pass the car by and then decide to murder an old lady.

Yes, he just stole other person's belongings. Sure, the lady was teasing him with her unlocked car.

Just like the one before her I guess - he was already on probation.

There is a gradient of criminality, and committing a non-violent crime of opportunity (where he even discarded much of the proceeds) is pretty low on the scale.

Yet now the justice system is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars+ incarcerating him, and the net result will be that his options after being released will lean even more heavily towards criminality.

How about tattooing the word "thief" across his forehead?

He may or may not. Meanwhile, crime in that neighborhood and others he targeted is likely to drop for the next 2 years. Bird in hand...

Good for her. I went through something similar a few months ago. I had my car parked in the driveway and similarly someone broke into it (it was locked, but didn't have an alarm) and they stole my GPS and chargers.

I found the post on Craigslist the next day and contacted the person with a fictitious email and name. He emailed me back asking for my phone number to set up a meeting.

At that point I had three options:

a) File a police report/contact the insurance company and have my insurance rate hiked up (for a < $100 GPS) b) Meet the thief in-person and pull a Chuck Norris on him c) Let it go and pick another GPS up / Fix my car door

I chose C as I didn't like the outcome of A, nor the possibility of him and his hooligans retaliating against my family if I went with B.

Hmm... this story doesn't pass the smell test.

I and many of my friends have been burglarized and then tried to track down the perpetrator. Also I am very active in my neighborhood block watch so I get involved in the details of many personal property crimes. Even with the most well meaning law enforcement officials and other institutions who might have information you need to solve your personal crime, the kind of cooperation this lady received is unheard of. In fact, I would be a little upset all these institutions spent this much time on a crime that is partly her fault. The rest of her details don't add up in my head.

Mark my words: This story will turn out to be more vigilante porn than the truth.

Righteous vengeance. Fortunately for her, the demographics of the thief allow the audience to unhesitatingly endorse law enforcement action without blaming the victim. Many people who have been victimized in SF are not so lucky.

Care to explain? Thanks.

He looked like a neo-nazi. Most people who are convicted for robbery in SF do not.

For the typical Salon reader, if a homeless member of a minority group smashed their window and grabbed their stuff, they would feel resignment. They wouldn't want to throw the book at someone who had suffered so much. In fact, they would actually get more angry at a writer who pushed for harsh penalties and jail time. Contrast to their reaction to this criminal.

From a purely utilitarian perspective, if you are victimized, it is better if your attacker is from a group that has no sympathetic constituency, deserved or not.

Interesting point. My car was broken into a few months ago. The thief stole a GPS unit from the glovebox and a $20 mobile phone. The damage to the car was $3500 plus the $150 in property stolen.

I checked the T-Mobile website and saw that there had been two calls to Central America. So I got on Skype and called both numbers. After a lot of rings one of the numbers picked up. The person spoke English. I said, "I'm calling to ask if someone called you from the United States yesterday. My phone was stolen and I think he or she might know something about the theft". The person claimed not to have been called the day before. After a few more minutes he admitted that he did receive a call. I asked if he knew someone in San Francisco and he said he had a friend who was a student who would never be involved in a crime.

I could hear the profound disappointment in his voice. I have no idea if the person who called him was the person who stole the phone, or if he may have bought the phone from someone else. But the general evasiveness of the voice at the other end made me suspect that perhaps his friend was the thief.

I don't begrudge someone a bit of petty theft if they are broke, but it does seem callous to do $3500 worth of property damage in order to steal property that you could sell for (at best) $80.

I also found it heartbreaking to think that this thief had let down someone back home who cared about him. I mean, I'd teach that guy to write code or something. Heck I'd teach anyone.

Good thing it wasn't over state lines. I had done some sleuthing on a fellow that took 2.4K from me, had his name, bank info, dad's name, city - nearly the works. The local police wouldn't get involved since I was out of state, and the FBI wouldn't get involved because the crime totals of this individual wasn't over 10K. That was several years ago and I just moved on, but I remember feeling that justice was for the rich. At the time, 2.4K was a lot of money to me.

Perhaps "can't post stuff on Facebook anymore" will become a powerful deterrent against a career in crime :-)

The closure I wanted at the end of the story was for her to meet the thief. For her to explain the hurt and worry and anger he'd caused. For him to try to explain his reasons and lack of them.

Also, I seem to recall this turns out to be incredibly cheap for the amount of reduction in recidivism it causes.

So, the lack of privacy of social media is not so 1-way after all (picture Zuckerberg searching your personal info from his Dr Evil control room with government henchmen in waiting ;-). It's 2-way: anyone can peer into anyone's life. Sometimes for a good cause, sometimes not...

I'm appreciative of the author's efforts in nailing this guy, as it makes the bay area a little safer for everybody.

I'm rather tired of reading about these career criminals on parole victimizing hardworking citizens, while others who haven't harmed anyone or stolen anything sit in prison.

In these days of unlimited free e-mail services (gmail, etc) you'd think someone wouldn't use their personal e-mail account to sell stolen goods...

I wouldn't have contributed to putting a guy who is engaged and about to have a child in jail for 2 years (which would probably piss a lot of people off) and then posted the whole story, in intimate detail, on a popular site, tied to my real identity.

The story is entertaining but the guy lost a lot more than her and it seems pretty foolish to tell the world it was because of her. If the guy uses craigslist, myspace, dating sites, and facebook, how many degrees of separation can there really be? I hope a lot.

He committed the crimes; he is responsible for the consequences. He knew he had a pregnant girlfriend, and chose to not care. To let someone continue on a destructive path against the community around him isn't dong anyone any favors, not him, his girlfriend, or his child.

Doesn't mean its not going to piss him and his family off that this woman went to those lengths to make it happen. You can't deny that people have strong, sometimes irrational, emotions. Anonymizing the story wouldn't have made it any less interesting and protected her from any retaliation (from him or friends; even a brick through the window would be a pain to deal with).

Not to mention she does take a few jabs at the guy and his potential girlfriend, saying they look sleazy/neo-nazi/etc.

Not saying what she did is wrong, just saying that clearly identifying herself as the one responsible for his punishment (clearly identifying him too) isn't the smartest move for her safety.

She more than likely took the witness stand and saw this guy face-to-face. You can't really charge someone with a crime without identifying yourself.

This is a great article. Thanks for sharing.

Reading how one can exploit tech to accomplish something gives way to entrepreneurial ideas.

I was glad to read about justice being done in this case.

Its a shame that many get away with so much.

In April 2009, at a frat party, this guy asked to use my iPhone to make a call. I had seen him at a different party the previous summer, so I let him use it. He walked away with my phone.

He taunted me over the phone when I called and asked to have it back. I updated my Facebook to relate that my phone was stolen; he logged in via iPhone and updated "nvm got my phone back." A real class act.

I remembered his name was "Chase" and he was into music, so I looked through MySpace for all the guys named Chase in Chicago. Through that, I found his Twitter account and sent him an @reply indicating that I filed a police report and would have him arrested at his next gig. A few minutes later he started the trip back to Hyde Park and returned the phone to me.

The ending is written as if the Myspace page was what sprung the trap on him. But was it the photo of him at McDonalds that they used or his online ones?

So it reads more like Credit card statement -> McDonald's photo -> arrest. With all her extraneous snooping around that?

I don't want to make assumptions, but I bet there was one annoyed police officer in California.

The photo wouldn't have led to the arrest if she hadn't matched it against the ones in MySpace one that was attached to the e-mail, names, and other people.

Dedicated to all the jackasses on Facebook. I can see you.

Did anyone else find the attitude of this article outrageous?

Bragging about sending a young man to prison over her blackberry?

It's much more likely that the two year prison sentence was due to the young man's violation of his probation than for petty theft. Anyway, I didn't think the author was bragging about the prison sentence -- that was up to a judge to decide. Rather, the author was bragging about tracking the guy down. Surely you don't think the thief should have gotten away with his crime scot-free?

No, this article is about using publicly available information to send a guy to jail that committed multiple crimes. It's not just about her blackberry it's about taking stuff that belongs to somebody else.

He should have stolen the entire car before you would have him sent to prison? If someone were to pickpocket a single $1 bill from my pocket, I'd want him to be punished, to try and deter him from doing it again.

Well there are different theories of justice. Deterrence is certainly one, but rehabilitation is another theory that should be considered.

I'm not sure what the correct response is, but the article conveyed an attitude that this was a clear cut narrative on the triumph of good over evil, casting herself as the heroine.

Another perspective is that a common thief, desperate to make ends meet, becomes the victim of a vindictive blogger. Guess I'm alone on this one :).

The US could certainly do more for the poor, but when you steal other people's things, you are not the victim any more.

If he's actually poor and desperate, at least now he has a roof over his head and three meals a day.

As it stands, this guy had time and money for leisure activities like social networks, and his own friends were surprised he didn't have a legitimate job. That doesn't strike me as something you can say about someone forced into poverty by their circumstances.

a common thief, desperate to make ends meet

How do you know this?

exactly. if anything, this guy was a lazy one who didn't work for a living, mooched off people's things and belongings and had all the time in the world for an active social life.

if one is that desperate to make ends meet, and i've seen such people, they'd be busting their asses and not lazying around in the parks or malls with girlfriends

Well, I certainly don't agree with you being downvoted into oblivion. It's a valid opinion and one that I may subscribe to if I had any reason to believe that you were right about the personal situation off the thief. But without the personal history of this thief, I have no reason to suppose he differs from most criminals, who often haven't really tried to make a regular living.

fwiw I agree, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Sounded far too much like she got wrapped up in her own empowerment and didn't think about whether just maybe letting it go was a better option.

Compare with this story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8916475...

now that's a triumph of good over evil narrative I can get behind.

thanks for the reply -- great article.

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