Valley Giant=good for MORE than just OW! (stolen gear tale)

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Trad

Trad climber
Northern California
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 27, 2008 - 01:31pm PT
In a subsequent email he wrote:

"A key piece of evidence was the fact that I had an unusual piece of gear: the Valley Giant!"

Some of you know my friend Jake (frisbee). He likes to climb OW, and I once posted a picture of him here in this thread (dialup users beware):

http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.html?topic_id=353413&msg=354040

A couple days ago Jake left for an extended tour of New Zealand, but just before leaving sent me a remarkable tale that I thought might be of interest here. I pared it down a bit (and changed some names) and posted it below, with his permission. It's kind of long but since it's winter in the northern hemisphere I figured people might be killing time in front of the computer instead of climbing anyway.

So, as Jake tells it...




On January 6th, I received a message on my cell phone from my friend Britney in San Francisco. I was home in Michigan visiting my parents for the holidays and had left my car in her care while I was away. My car had been stolen!

I was a little shocked to think that someone would steal my car. It was a true beater: cracked windshield, broken quarter panel, loose front bumper, a hole punched in the back bumper, peeling paint job, 240,000 miles, balding & cracked tires. I was going to sell it for maybe $500 just to get rid of it before my 8 month trip to New Zealand at the end of January.

I wasn’t so much concerned about the car when I realized that I had left some valuable items in the trunk. About $2500 worth of backpacking and rock climbing gear! I was extremely upset with myself for having left that stuff in the trunk. It was a bonehead mistake, but then, I didn’t think the car had much chance of being stolen in the 2 weeks I was gone.

As soon as I returned to San Francisco, I filed a police report at the Mission police station on January 15th. It was a long ordeal as I filled out 4 pages worth of stolen items and their value. I was told that the police find over 90% of stolen vehicles so just be patient.

On January 17th, things started to get exciting. A Craigslist ad appeared that described my climbing gear exactly:

-----------------------------------------------------------

Reply to: ################
Date: 2008-01-17, 3:09AM PST

2 harnesses,1 double nest hammock,1 chalk bag,20 runner gear straps50 carabiners,35 wire gate,18 bent gate,6 lock scew,16 link cams of various sizes up to 9and obout 200 feet 0f rope in a repelling bag 450 OBO pictures on request
-----------------------------------------------------------


I immediately called SF police dispatch and they sent an officer over within 20 minutes. He asked me if I had any identifying marks on my gear like initials, but especially a driver’s license #. I didn’t. Or did I know the serial numbers of any items? No. Registered warranties? No. Well, then we don’t have enough evidence to act on this, he said. I did mark my climbing gear with red thread and I’m the only one I’ve ever seen do that (most climbers use tape or paint). But that’s not enough evidence either, he said. He also recommended not getting involved with trying to buy it back—you don’t want to deal with someone who has potentially stolen your vehicle. Fair enough, I said, but I certainly could not let this just happen without getting involved! I was bummed that the police couldn’t help.

I had my friend Paris send an email posing as someone interested in buying the gear. Meanwhile, I set up a fake email account and contacted the seller as well.

[various emails are exchanged, identifying photos were received, and they set up a meeting]

At this point, I’m getting nervous about the potential meeting. I decide to go talk to another officer about what I can do or if there’s any evidence I can collect so that the police will get involved. I end up back at the Mission police station, explaining my case to the lady officer behind the window. Another officer, Officer “Smith”, overhears me and seems interested in helping. I find out that he is a former climber and he seems more sympathetic to my case than previous officers I had talked to. He had especially perked up when I told him that the seller wants to meet at Folsom & 14th. When he finds out where my car was stolen, he says that “tweakers love it up there.”

That night, I get a call from Officer Smith. There is enough evidence to proceed and they want to accompany me to the purchase. I am to meet him at the Mission police station at 1pm. That afternoon, I had received my final email from [mystery thief guy]:

I go to bed that night excited and nervous about tomorrow’s events.

The next day, I arrive at the Mission police station at 1pm along with printouts of the emails and the pictures the seller sent me. I am immediately brought into the briefing room where about 6 officers are present. Officer “Jones” briefs the others on my case and the upcoming purchase. On the whiteboard is a map of the grocery store area. It shows the direction of traffic, the vending machines, the bench, etc.

“Jacob and Officer Smith in plain-clothes will pull into the parking lot at 1:50pm and approach the bench. They will be in Officer Smith’s personal car. After Jacob has identified enough of his gear with Officer Smith, Jacob will return to their car to ‘get the money.’ At that time, we’ll move in, Officer Smith will show him his badge and we’ll place him under arrest. The grocery store parking lot has 3 entrances, one here and two here. On this side of the parking lot is a tall fence so if he runs, he only has one option. 11 Adam [a police car] will be here. 13 Adam will be here. I will be arriving early to see if they come to scope out the area ahead of time. This is what our victim looks like [points to me] so don’t tackle him.”

“Here is the vehicle we’re looking for: a 1996 Saturn, 4 door, license is, no joke, boy king Robert 1234 with Michigan plates.” He turns to me to explain that BKR, boy king Robert, is police code for a stolen vehicle. He asks me to further describe my vehicle to them—they’re hoping that the guy will show up in my car.

The officers linger with some camaraderie time of saying that they hope the guy will run so they can watch so-and-so chase him down. Everyone is pretty professional and seems ready to get down to business. We all disperse and I move to another room to wait for Officer Smith to return in his street clothes. It’s an anxious time and the clock seems not to be moving at all. Officer Smith and I go over what’s about to happen.

“I will be tape recording the conversation. You’re going to be the newbie climber who doesn’t know much. I’ll be the experienced, skeptical friend. I need you to identify $400 worth of property as being yours so we can charge him with a felony. These cams are worth $60 each, so 7 cams will do it. Every time you touch something that is yours, say ‘this looks good.’ I’m going to try to get him to tell a story about how he acquired it. After we have enough evidence, we’ll negotiate a price and you’ll return to my car to get the money then we’ll do the rest.”

At 1:45pm, Officer Smith and I get into his car and drive to the meeting spot. On the way, he gets a cell call from Officer Jones saying that there is a suspicious Saturn in the parking lot with two males in it. He wants to know if I had a Duke sticker on the back window. I didn’t.

We pull in and swing through the parking lot, passing the bench and scanning the individuals in the area. There’s an old man pushing a shopping cart full of stuff…we think it might be him. There’s another guy just leaning against the fence…could be him. We park 15 spots away from the bench and get out of the car. We swing out through the parking lot so we can be seen by the other officers then we approach the bench.

There is a guy sitting on the bench with a backpack that I don’t recognize. I ask him if he’s meeting someone here at 2pm about climbing equipment. He says yes and I sit down on the bench next to him. My first impressions are that he’s a little strange, possibly a quiet, violent type. But he seems nice enough and I don’t feel threatened. I start opening the bag and going through the stuff. Oh crap, I hadn’t mentioned anything about my friend. “This is my friend, Jack. I don’t know a whole lot about climbing so I asked him to come along.” Whew, okay, so far so good. I pull out a whole rack of my cams, Black Diamond, Alien and Metolius, all with my red thread markings. “This looks good. These are exactly what I’ve been looking for. This all looks good.” Meanwhile, Officer Smith is asking probing questions but the seller won’t say much other than he got it from a friend. I honestly didn’t hear too much of what was going on between them—I was engrossed in my task of looking at the gear. I pull it all out of the backpack and when I had finished, Officer Smith turns the conversation to payment. Almost done…Yes! I’m going back to the car. I walk away as casually as possible towards the car. I see Officer Jones standing in the parking lot so I walk over to him. He asks me if this 4 door Saturn (3 cars away, with a guy sitting in it) is mine. It’s not, unless someone’s done a lot of work on it. After a few seconds of noticing how tense Officer Jones is as he’s watching the arrest by the bench, and the sight of other officers combing the parking lot, I decide that I really should go back to the car.

I get back to the car and slouch down in the passenger seat. I’m getting more nervous watching the officers walk around the parking lot. Then I see a guy who looks a lot like the seller with a big hooded jacket walking towards my car. OH SH*T. He walks by the rear of my car and is looking in at me, but he’s still walking. I’m watching all of this through the side-view mirror, trying to hide my face.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next—retaliation? I slouch lower. Just then out the front window I see Officer Jones run over to my car and yell to the hooded guy,

“LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS!”

“I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!”

“I DON’T CARE. LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS!”

And Officer Jones pulls out his gun and points it at the guy. At this point, I don’t remember much. I know I was scared. I just kept looking ahead out the window while events unfolded behind me.

At one point, I looked over at the car next to me where a man was reading a newspaper in his car. We just looked at each other then looked away. His look was kind of like an acknowledgement that something eventful just happened, but it happens all the time around here so no big deal.

Eventually, they arrested the hooded guy without incident. Officer Smith soon came to his car and told me what had happened. 2 arrests, 1 stolen vehicle. They searched the vehicle and found more stolen property. Officer Smith drove the stolen car back to the station and I drove his.

AFTERMATH

I spent the next 4 hours at the station doing police reports [and] would find out later that Officer Smith was there until 8am the next morning because they had so much evidence to work with.

The vehicle the seller arrived in was also a 4-door Saturn. It had been stolen that very morning from the Upper Market area. The license plate on the vehicle was for a different Saturn that had been stolen from the Haight. Inside were two laptop bags, one with broken car window glass in it. One had a PDA and some papers that were stolen that morning—in Berkeley.
The key in the ignition was a Nissan key. The car started right up with it. Also inside the car were 3 key rings full of vehicle keys. A key to a storage shed in San Rafael was also found.

One guy was on probation, the other was a parolee. The guy who had my gear is a skin head, in and out of jail for most of his life. He has a Swastika tattooed on the top of his head, ‘F__k Authority’ tattooed across his forehead, and ‘Kill’ & ‘Everybody’ on his eyelids. After finding this out, I’m glad I didn’t go through with the purchase without the police. It probably would have been fine…I’m just saying.

They search the guy’s room at a hotel in the Mission two days later. They found my rope and shoes there along with other stolen property including the Mac that he probably used to send emails. The police weren’t aware, however, that the seller had recently changed rooms so they entered the wrong room first. A guy took off running—he had a warrant out for his arrest. He broke his leg trying to escape via jumping rooftops. They arrested him, too. I was told that the whole place was full of “people just returning from or heading to San Quentin.” Yikes.

My car is still missing. A lot of expensive backpacking gear is still missing, too. All in all, it was exciting to be a part of this. Thanks to the men and women of the SF Mission Police!

Make sure you write your driver’s license number on expensive items. Or record serial numbers. It could make your life easier someday!



WBraun

climber
Jan 27, 2008 - 01:42pm PT
Whoa, nice write-up Trad.
Mtnmun

Trad climber
Top of the Mountain Mun
Jan 27, 2008 - 01:43pm PT
Great story, I am glad they caught the scum and your friend was able to get some of his gear back. I am amazed how many people have posted here in the past few months that have been victims of crime.

Did anyone else on the Taco get their gear back? What happened to that sack full of loot that showed up at the Reno climbing gym?
happiegrrrl

Trad climber
New York, NY
Jan 27, 2008 - 01:56pm PT
WOW!!!

That was exciting reading, and totally out of the blue for a Sunday afternoon. Thanks for posting it, and also to your friend for the writing.

Scary, though.... We often think that the thieves are at least climbers of some type, and not the fact that it's possible they are serial criminals. I'm glad your friend did go through police channels, and that the climber cop happened to get involved.

yo

climber
The Eye of the Snail
Jan 27, 2008 - 02:11pm PT
Holy schnikes.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 27, 2008 - 02:31pm PT
Thank you for a good story. Glad you got some of your stuff back, anyway, with not too much excitement.

A climber-policeman in Vancouver once told me that the organized rings of thieves that frequent some climbing areas typically move their loot to another province, such as Ontario, or even into the U.S. The distance (and the different jurisdiction) much reduces the chance of their being caught or prosecuted.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jan 27, 2008 - 02:35pm PT
WOW! What an AWESOME story!!! Best one I've read here in months.

So did you get your Valley Giants back???
spyork

Social climber
A prison of my own creation
Jan 27, 2008 - 02:36pm PT
Wow, great story! Very cool since I have climbed with the teller! Nice to see a gear thief and/or fence busted.
Crimpergirl

Social climber
St. Looney
Jan 27, 2008 - 03:18pm PT
Excellent read. Plus, you are correct - I am spending a lot of time in front of the computer as suspected.
Jay Wood

Trad climber
Fairfax, CA
Jan 27, 2008 - 03:40pm PT
I looked at that post on CL.

Good reminder to watch out for hot stuff.

I stamp my CDL # on power tools, but hadn't thought to do it on climbing gear. I'll get out the engraver.

Thanks for the tale. I've been there. I wish Jake well in shedding the yucky feeling that comes with a rip-off.
Chaz

Trad climber
So. Cal.
Jan 27, 2008 - 03:43pm PT
Outstanding!

I know what it's like to have a rack ripped off, one that represented half-a-lifetime accumulation (still missing), so I thought the part about being able to see your stuff again was especially cool.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Jan 27, 2008 - 04:11pm PT
putting your CDL is like asking for ID theft.

I would think you just need something that can authenticate you as the owner. last name enough?
crøtch

climber
Jan 27, 2008 - 04:15pm PT
Great story. Thanks for posting. It reminded me of the classic story posted on rec.climbing about Dan Osman hunting down his TNF jacket in Oakland.
Trad

Trad climber
Northern California
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 28, 2008 - 12:00am PT
So did you get your Valley Giants back???

I got the impression the Valley Giant was in there with the other gear, but I think it's all waiting for a court appearance before he'll be climbing on it again. But I kind of doubt he was planning to take it all to NZ anyway. He's probably missing some of the backpacking/camping gear more.

I emailed Jake telling him I posted the story but I'm not sure about his connectivity status. Hopefully he'll chime in with further details sooner or later.
bluering

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Jan 28, 2008 - 01:42pm PT
Damn. Nice to hear things turned out o.k. Good thing you brought the cops too. Anybody who can have tatoo's on their eyelids (painful) and then have Kill Everybody put on 'em is a dangerous and twisted mother fu%ker.

"I love it when a plan comes together".
L

climber
A Big Puddle on the Coast of CA
Jan 28, 2008 - 02:00pm PT
Great story Trad! Felt like I was sitting in the car sweating it with your friend there in the parking lot...
Nefarius

Big Wall climber
Fresno, CA
Jan 28, 2008 - 02:17pm PT
Cool story! Glad you got your gear back too...

But how does the Valley Giant come into play? Did I miss something?
Brutus of Wyde

climber
Old Climbers' Home, Oakland CA
Jan 28, 2008 - 02:35pm PT
Great to read a good ending to a stolen gear story.


And...
Uh...

Where can I get tatoos like that?

Brutus
Chaz

Trad climber
So. Cal.
Jan 28, 2008 - 02:36pm PT
"Where can I get tatoos like that?"

The Joint.
the Fet

Knackered climber
A bivy sack in the secret campground
Jan 28, 2008 - 05:36pm PT
That was killer.
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