Woman tracks down man who broke into her car

On Salon, Amanda Enayati wrote an engrossing piece about how she used the Web to track down a man who broke into her car, stealing her wallet and other items.
See, aspiring thief, you just never know what you're stepping into when you hit up a random car on a random street. However badass you think you may be, there is someone on the other side of the robbery. And in this particular case it was someone who escaped the Iranian Revolution as a child; who roamed the world alone for five years because her parents couldn't get out; who watched from a dozen blocks away as the twin towers crumbled; who had just barely clawed her way out of that concentration camp known as late-stage cancer, if only because she was intent on raising her babies, come hell or high water. And all of this before she even turned 40. Can you see how that someone might be way more twisted than you?

By the end of that first day, I knew what the thief looked like. 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." There was no information about the address -- except he used that same e-mail to sign up for a low-rent dating site about a week or two before and had made the colossal mistake of uploading three pictures of himself and three pictures of his girl Amberley, with a heart tattoo on her right boob. He was a tall linebacker type with an emerging belly and piercing blue eyes that seemed to issue a dare. He looked vaguely neo-Nazi, but maybe that was just the blond buzz cut.

He had not posted his whole name. But I knew what I had to work with: John F, Caucasian, 23 years old, from San Mateo. His moniker: Johnny Boi.

My relentless pursuit of the guy who robbed me" A thief broke into my car. I used Craigslist, a dating site, MySpace and a fast food joint to track him down (Via Cynical-C)

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  1. Nice detective work. . .goes to show in this day and age, if you live on the grid, good luck with your anonymity.

    Also if I may quote from the Bits and Pieces public service messages during Saturday morning cartoons in the early ’80s: ‘One thousand and two stupid things to do: borrowing. . .without asking.’

    1. Depends on what your name is, round-eye.

      I’m John Smith, and I look exactly like at least a hundred other John Smiths. See if you can find me.

      This lady got lucky because the thief was even stupider than usual (which is quite an accomplishment, really).

  2. Hmm… I’m sure part of this are true but the 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 when there is a lot of more serious crime that are not getting attention.

    Mark my words: I think this story will turn out to be more mini-vigilante porn than the truth.

  3. However badass you think you may be…

    Sounds like you’re a little full of yourself too, Amanda.

    But good work!

  4. I can’t imagine exposing that much of my personal life in such a public way just because I was so hellbent on revenge.

  5. In fact, I would be a little upset all these institutions spent this much time on a crime that is partly her fault when there is a lot of more serious crime that are not getting attention.

    Um, did you read the article at all? What institution spent any time at all? The detective was nice and helpful, but only spent about a day on it. The woman did all the work.

    What is it that “doesn’t pass the smell test,” exactly? The leg up that this woman had on you and many of your friends is that she managed to get his email from the craigslist posting. Once you have someone’s email, you have everything on them, and it’s completely believable.

    1. Yes I did read it..

      A squad car, much less a detective, should not and would not come out personally and spent that much time on such a minor incident (that again was partially her fault). Its an incredible waste of resources, especially in a major metropolitan area. Again and again I’ve seen much bigger crimes happen and less attention given to them.

      Also I just don’t believe she got the video surveillance tape. I’ve had friends who have had credit cards stolen and they couldn’t get surveillance tape from any 3rd party to save their life.

      1. “A squad car, much less a detective, should not and would not come out personally and spent that much time on such a minor incident (that again was partially her fault).”

        Would not maybe, but should not? If my stuff gets taken, I’d certainly like someone to take an interest. It’s an odd society that doesn’t try to deter theft, surely? Here in Switzerland it’s the complete opposite – the police come out at the drop of a hat. Neighbours having a loud party? Call the police! (yes, it’s happened, and no, it wasn’t that loud).

        Coming from the UK, living here is different. Because everywhere is reasonably safe, people actually butt-in when they see something going on that they don’t like – which, in turn, keeps crime low. It may be a bit curtain-twitchy sometimes, but it is nice to actually expect my bike to still be there when I come back!

  6. I don’t think that this on passes the smell test, either.

    I live in a city, Oakland California, where they do not investigate property crime. It is not a theory. They have clearly stated, in public, that they will not investigate property crime.

    I have given time-date-stamped video footage clearly showing suspects physical attributes from multiple angles, as well as the description and license plate numbers of the vehicles involved.

    Their response: “File your report on-line, through the website, and then call your insurance company.”

    Perhaps where she lives, the police care more about property crime.

    1. Well that’s because you live Oakland… I don’t think she says where she lives, but she does say she lives within 5 miles of San Mateo, and there’s a lot of super swank suburbia within 5 miles of San Mateo. Hillsborough, Burlingame, Millbrae, Belmont…. All worlds away from Oakland, all with very attentive police departments.

      For my part I wish she posted the guy’s pictures. All that macho posturing and she withholds her best weapon, public shaming. And she’s trying pretty hard to write an interesting story, and that picture of the thief sipping a giant beer and grabbing his balls would be pretty damn hilarious.

      And to the people who say its her own fault for leaving her car unlocked, get a clue.

    2. Sure they do, she lives so far away from you (one bridge, take your pick, plus an additional 15 minute drive from Oakland) in the far off land of San Mateo (yes, you can see San Mateo from Oakland and vice versa). But then again, San Mateo isn’t New Oaksterdam where the police force doesn’t have enough money to run its self, so it’s hoping to sell pot to make more dough. I’ll stay over here where the police can do their job.

  7. Okay, no question that it’s absolutely wrong to take things from someone’s car. The guy’s a crook, I’m glad he was caught, and I congratulate the author of this article on her ingenuity and persistence.

    But I can’t get past the part of the article where the author admitted that the car was left unlocked. The crook didn’t “break into” the vehicle so much as take advantage of an opportunity.

    1. I don’t see what “breaking into” something has anything to do with it. Is an unlocked car stupid? Yeah. But it’s not a green light for thievery. The thief still entered someone’s private property and took things that weren’t his.

    2. “But I can’t get past the part of the article where the author admitted that the car was left unlocked.”

      as opposed to locking it and having her window smashed?

      to your credit, though, leaving your wallet in your car, locked or not, is incredibly stupid.

    3. “But I can’t get past the part of the article where the author admitted that the car was left unlocked”

      Yeah that was dumb, and its pretty apparent the author agrees.

      However, if your argument is along the lines of “she gets what she deserves” or “they shouldn’t waste police resources when its their own fault” I have a problem with that.

      Taking that same argument to its logical and absurd conclusion, you can easily end up with something like this :

      “Well, that girl shouldn’t have passed out at the party. She deserved 20 dudes running train on her while she was unconscious”

      The best way to test the validity of a position being argued is to take it to the absurd extreme. If it can stand up under those circumstances, it is a good position indeed.

  8. SamSam: This specifically gets me.. I call BS:

    “That sealed it: I called the police. They were over in 15 minutes. I filed a report, handed over Johnny Boi’s Craigslist ad and his photos from the dating site. The following day, I met a detective I’ll call Inspector Vargas.”

    1. SamSam: This specifically gets me.. I call BS: “That sealed it: I called the police. They were over in 15 minutes. I filed a report, handed over Johnny Boi’s Craigslist ad and his photos from the dating site. The following day, I met a detective I’ll call Inspector Vargas.”

      That’s a good point. I wonder though: is there a San Francisco for regular people and a San Francisco for others? That is, if you live in a super-fancy neighborhood, is it more likely that detectives will show up at your door over the theft of a GPS?

      1. That’s a good point. I wonder though: is there a San Francisco for regular people and a San Francisco for others? That is, if you live in a super-fancy neighborhood, is it more likely that detectives will show up at your door over the theft of a GPS?

        It might make sense from a practical standpoint more then anything else. No matter where you are there are always places that are more prone to crime then others. Perhaps in the locations where major crimes are committed the population doesn’t want to associate with the police. There were a lot of good neighbors in this story, that’s not the case in some places.

        Perhaps the police aversion to petty property crimes in some locations comes from the vibe of the surrounding community. In those places they are probably all tied up with larcenists and other major crimes to worry to much about petty theft.

        It seems cost-effective for the police to not spend excessive amounts of time trying to track down items that they have no hope of recovering as the original owners had failed to record the serial numbers.

      2. is there a San Francisco for regular people and a San Francisco for others? That is, if you live in a super-fancy neighborhood, is it more likely that detectives will show up at your door over the theft of a GPS?

        This is sadly pretty much true of all cities, at all times in history. Crack dealers in the Tenderloin go about their business right in front of the police station. Try that in the Presidio and you’ll find yourself in a jail cell within 5 minutes.

      3. Much like in an airplane, there is definitely First and Second Class seating in San Francisco. Also much like an airplane, San Francisco is exceedingly tiny so that First and Second Class seating are plainly visible and adjacent to each other.

    2. The article said Johnny Boi was on parole. His prior might have been what made the police so co-operative and helpful and prompt. Also if they think he knows something then this is a perfect bargaining chip crime to deal down and get some dirt on a bigger fish.

  9. its not someone’s fault for being robbed when their door is unlocked. It is entirely the fault of the criminal 100%. Opening a car door that is not yours with the intent to take the car or anything in it is always 100% the criminal’s fault. Like nutbastard says, sometowns are so bad its just better to leave the door unlocked so at least you can keep your windows.

    In any event, the cops taking an interets is a good thing. Maybe they should spend more time on this rather than cracking down on drug crime or other useless crap.

  10. What’s with people blaming the victim here?!? No, it is not “partly” your fault if someone steals an item that isn’t chained down. It was private property, in another piece of private property, and probably also *on* private property. Accessibility does not make it OK! Just because you don’t deter someone from performing a crime (that they know full well is a crime) doesn’t mean you are asking for it. Reminds me of rape victims getting blamed for dressing “slutty” or behaving like they “asked for it.”

  11. If she indeed does live in a place where cops come over in 15 minutes to investigate car break-ins, followed by a detective the next day, then what a total waste of taxpayer dollars. If the guy ran free, we’d save money over that luxe response.

    I guess if your home is broken into, you get a full SWAT Team response complete with snipers. Minor car wrecks are handled with white-gloved concierge service to get you where you were going, while a fleet of helicopters is standing by for anything larger.

    I suspect what we have here is a superb example of the two justice systems in this country. One for the rich, and one for everyone else.

    1. If she indeed does live in a place where cops come over in 15 minutes to investigate car break-ins, followed by a detective the next day, then what a total waste of taxpayer dollars. If the guy ran free, we’d save money over that luxe response.

      Just interested, do you have any proof of this claim?

      I think most cops want to investigate crime regardless of where it happens, a crime is a crime, is a crime, but lets face it some jurisdictions have more tax money to work with then others. I live in one of those Podunk places that has four cops for the entire “city” and property crime here is rather hard to prosecute as well, I think most go unsolved or are not looked at more closely since there generally is little to no evidence to go on. This woman at least developed some evidence for the police to work with.

    2. “If the guy ran free, we’d save money over that luxe response.”

      If she lives in suburbia, which she almost certainly does, then its not YOUR taxpayer dollars paying for that police response, its hers and that of other people in her town, and I’m pretty sure they don’t think it was wasted.

  12. @bshock, what if you accidentally left your back door unlocked, or your window open and a thief came inside your house and stole all your stuff. Would you also not consider that breaking into someone’s home?

  13. I don’t live in CA, but it is a safe assumption that if she was black, lived in the hood and had her car broken into, she’d get the same top-notch service from her personal law enforcement concierge? Or is she just a good tipper?

  14. My sister’s purse was stolen from the trunk of a locked car. The thief then drove 30 miles and used her credit card to buy gas at the gas station 3 blocks from our home. This freaked us out as it was either somebody who lived nearby that had committed the crime or they used her license to find where she lived and then checked out the house. The gas station had tapes. The police refused to request them and the station wouldn’t turn them over to us.

    Of course I don’t have the pulpit of Salon.com to use to gently encourage the police to cooperate.

  15. While she may have embellished the story a bit for Salon, I don’t think there was anything in there that was completely unbelievable.

    In the end, she got lucky since the thief was pretty dumb and left too many breadcrumbs. She also got lucky that she stumbled across his craigslist ad.

    I know how frustrating it can be to have something stolen from you, especially when it was something personal. I had a sketchbook in a backpack once that was stolen from my car while I was inside a museum. I didn’t care about the other crap in the bag, but that was something I couldn’t replace. This author mentions photos and other stuff that were clearly very personal for her, so I totally get the frustration she was probably feeling.

    I’ve also had someone steal money from me on ebay before, and within a day or two I had communications out to other people that he stole from, and collectively we were able to get him banned. If he was doing it to more people we probably could have gotten him arrested also, but that would have been harder to prove. I basically even knew where his shop was in New York, but since I’m in Los Angeles, it wasn’t worth it to pay him a personal visit.

    It’s really not that difficult to track people down if you get the basic info. That’s the good and bad thing about the internet.

  16. I’d definitely rather the multiple squad cars that roam my township and spend my tax dollars were out investigating GPS thefts than trolling in parking lots waiting to write out tickets for going 5mph over the limit.

  17. I don’t know about some of you, but I walk by cars and houses all the time without feeling the urge to check doors or glance into windows to see if there’s anything worth taking.

    Oh, I won’t go so far as to say I’m never *curious* about what people keep/do in their homes, because I AM a little nosy and won’t refuse a glance if it’s given, but honestly? I’ve never wanted to take anyone’s stuff without their permission.

    If you’re going to steal, you’re going to steal. An unlocked door makes it easier, but it doesn’t mean the same person wasn’t going to smash your window either.

    Saying a thief was “just taking advantage of an opportunity” is a slap in the face of lots of people who do respect property rights and who do try to be vigilant but are still human. A dumb slip once (or twice!) shouldn’t damn a person to be shamed in public.

  18. The Backberry that was stolen was what made the whole thing a “Grand Theft” as opposed to a “Petty Theft.” It was also why he even got 2 years and not just a fine of $1000 which is paid to the state not the claimant.

    Look at how little the punishment is for either type of theft and this might explain why there the police are not that interested smaller theft crimes. Sections 489 and 490 of the CA codes.

    489. Grand theft is punishable as follows:
    (a) When the grand theft involves the theft of a firearm, by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, 2, or 3 years.
    (b) In all other cases, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison.

    490. Petty theft is punishable by fine not exceeding one thousand
    dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding
    six months, or both.

    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=484-502.9

  19. Thanks for getting the rat bastard. I have no doubt that this guy, or someone just like him raided my car in San Mateo in the same manner. May he enjoy his time redwood city (I guess that’s where he’d go to jail).

  20. detectives are not street cops – if they’re not actively working on a case, it’s not that unbelievable that they’d be there “in 15 minutes”. When I called to report my license plate had been stolen, a detective from my local PD was at my house within 20 minutes – and I live next door to Oakland (however, when I lived _in_ Oakland, I had to leave a recorded message when my car window was busted and glove box broken into . . . and never received a call back).

    and goblin? I’m pretty sure the reason he got 2 years and not just a fine is because he was on probation

    1. Anon, I was mostly commenting on the fact that all forms of theft, including most cases of “Grand Theft” (and I believe that between a GPS and a Blackberry this case might be just barely class as a “Grand Theft” or over $400 as written in sec. 487) really don’t have much punishment at all.

      You point out the extra year might be due to probation violation or prior conviction. Either way you cut it she was still lucky just to get him for 2 years. Cops obviously don’t want to spend large amounts of time on case that will have either a poor return or no return.

  21. Two things: When my house got broken into and cleared out, the LAPD Pacific Division did come over and talk to me, so there’s that.

    But also, consider this from the story:

    “That sealed it: I called the police. They were over in 15 minutes.”

    was probably edited down from (in the writer’s mind at least):

    “That sealed it: I called the police. They told me to fill in an on-line report. I told them I was writing a major piece about the incident for Salon. They were over in 15 minutes.”

  22. When Carla and I lived in San Francisco, we had lunch at Caffe Centro in South Park. She left her purse under the outside table when we left. She ran back, but it was already gone. Witnesses told us who took it. We knew who the woman was, as she hung around the park (she lived in a local halfway house and seemed to be perpetually drunk). We called the cops and they came to interview us. They also talked to the suspect. Then the cops reported back to us that the woman no longer had the purse. They said they didn’t want to arrest her as it wouldn’t help Carla get her purse back. Lesson: don’t leave your purse unattended.

  23. I’m not getting all the suspicion and derision on here. This woman was the victim of a crime, a crime she openly admits could have been prevented if she’d brought her backpack/GPS inside. She hesitates to call the police for that very reason.

    She undertakes a very simple search for the thief, who like many thieves is not the sharpest pencil in the drawer, and tracks him down via his own copious breadcrumb trail. Only when she has enough evidence in hand to make a real case does she turn to the cops, who put the dope, who was on probation, back in a cell.

    How little we expect from our public servants (which is what cops are) that we expect them to just shrug off “property crimes” like this. To say nothing of the derision for this woman, who simply took some very reasonable, legal steps to find a man who committed a crime against and dumped her personal belongings into the street for blocks around.

    I call this story a WIN.

  24. All of my instincts tell me this is real. These instincts are much more informed by many details of the writing style than by logistical quibbles.

  25. Whether it’s a true story or not, I enjoyed it. I enjoy the notion that there can be winners through online stalking. Hell, it’s more productive than your day-to-day stalking out of boredom.

    It makes me think how useful it could be to have a little pocket transmitter to keep in your wallet, backpack, etc. Just like an iPhone or GPS unit, but expressly for the purpose of tracking an object. You could pay some company to track your object’s whereabouts when (and, in an ideal world, ONLY when) they get stolen or lost. Like insurance but more entertaining. Maybe call it Blade Runner Insurance or something? And naturally, this application of technology would !never! be abused.

  26. After reading this- “Can you see how that someone might be way more twisted than you?”- I was kinda hoping she’d find the guy and go all vigilante on his ass. I imagined her (and/or a pair of her burly “personal assistants”) kicking in his door, baseball bat in hand, and teaching him a very personal lesson in property rights. Calling the cops seems so pedestrian. But them I like my revenge fantasies.

  27. When my Mother’s macbook was stolen, we saw it online on mobileme a few weeks later, and we watched for weeks as the young couple living in a nearby poor neighborhood chatted on facebook, and sent personal emails, and bragged about the new laptop they had scored on the street.

    I sshed in and trojaned it, and dug through their personal files, and by the time the detectives went to their apartment, I had stacks of papers about them.
    Not just did I know where they worked and who all of their friends were, I knew about their family drama and what kind of vodka they drank.
    I knew them so well, I saw they were working, and part time college students, and I felt really bad, and we declined to press charges, but we did get the laptop back :)

  28. “Neighbours having a loud party? Call the police! (yes, it’s happened, and no, it wasn’t that loud). ”

    At a 1950’s themed party I attended recently, the host put a projector in the back yard, projecting the city’s noise bylaw onto his garage, with the idea of highlighting to the neighbours that there are no noise limits until a certain time of night (it’s 10 or 11 at night, I don’t recall). The party also wasn’t all that loud, but there was some music playing and a few people dancing.

    Even so, the neighbours called the police about the noise, earlier in the evening than the bylaw actually provided for, and the cops showed up. When they arrived, the cheerful oldies music was really not very loud, everyone was wearing suits and cocktail dresses, and my four month old daughter was sleeping peacefully in on my wife’s chest. I think the cops got a little chuckle out of it – anyway, they were probably quite a bit more polite to us than they might have been if the music and dress had been different.

    And this was not in a super ritzy neighbourhood, by any means – it’s working- to middle-class, and has had its share of problems with gang violence, burglary, arson…

    My guess is, they make sure to go to the noise complaint calls because then they get to have a quiet and calm conversation with the people there, which probably reduces the chances the party will get too rowdy later. If I were a cop, I know I’d rather do twenty quick chats about noise complaints in a night, than have one of those parties break into a fight where I had to show up and arrest someone and get witness statements from a person who is upset, drunk, and has a black eye and broken teeth…

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