How tracking down a stolen computer triggered a drug bust

Over at MAKE, we've got an interesting story about computers stolen from a MAKE employee's car during Maker Faire Detroit, which led to a drug bust.

Have you ever had something stolen? Your heart sinks, your mind races, and you become increasingly paranoid about the vulnerability of your personal property. I know because this is a picture of my coworker’s (let’s call him Steve) rental car, a Chevy Impala, after lunch at Slow’s Bar-B-Q in Detroit (amazing food, don’t park on a side street), the Monday after Maker Faire Detriot. There was nothing significant in the front of the car to entice thieves to break in, but we both had computers in backpacks in the trunk. One quick jab from a screwdriver unlocked the car, allowing the thief to pop the trunk and liberate the bags.

We didn’t see the hole at first, so we both thought we were crazy when we found the trunk empty at the hotel. We texted the rest of our team, who were on their way to the airport, and retraced our steps. When were the bags last seen? Who had access to the car? As I said, your mind races. Steve and I drove to the Henry Ford Museum, where the car had been most of the day, and parked in the same spot to see if it was in view of a video camera. The car was visible from two. After reporting this to Henry Ford Security and asking them to review the tapes for that day, we started examining the trunk for any telltale marks. That’s when we noticed the puncture under the driver’s door handle. That would have made noise. Noise we would have heard from the tent. Now what? Steve and I were planning to see Batman at the Henry Ford’s IMAX theater at 9:40pm. Reluctantly, at around 8pm, we headed back to Slow’s, a 25 minute drive. The trip was filled with talk about what was in the bags, and how screwed we were. “Screwed” was probably the most polite word uttered. Steve’s ThinkPad was locked and encrypted. My Macbook Pro was in hibernation and was wide open. Even then, my harddrive was not encrypted. Fortunately, I don’t save history, usernames, or passwords.

How tracking down a stolen computer triggered a drug bust


  1. vulnerability; interestingly enough autocorrect on Mac wants to go for venerability when I misspell it.  

  2. Stealing a computer and then immediately using it to try and sell your car on Craigslist: pretty fucking dumb.

    Almost as dumb as leaving two forms of ID and a set of jail bands next to your weed.

    1.  I lol’d at the CL post:  “inside drivers door handle needs fixed.”  why would *that* be, I wonder.

    1. Car theft happens everywhere. The bigger the city, the more it happens. So if you’re going to use incidence of theft as a reason to not go somewhere, I hope you really enjoy a rural lifestyle.

      Detroit is a neat place to visit, it has some cool things to see. 

      1. Except for the lousy internet connection, satellite or dial-up, yes I do. Judging from the ease which the thief broke into the Impala, I would say that GM needs to re-think the door handle design.

    2. I’ve been to a lot of cities but Detroit was by far the craziest, most f–ed up city I’ve ever seen. And that was coming from living in NYC in the 80s. I drove through Detroit a few years ago and it was like a huge ghost town. I’m sure there are some cool things to see there… somewhere.

  3. “Clearly, the officers in Detroit had more important things to do like catch murderers, rapists, and other criminals than find our missing electronics. I can’t say I blame them.”
    Cops in Detroit are thin and stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. 

  4. I sometimes wonder about the concern about passwords and other stuff on computers.  Your average thief seems pretty clueless about what’s on a notebook or what it can do for that matter. But then they may sell it off to someone cheap who does show interest.

  5. Every detectives wet dream. They may or may not of had prior information on that location with an individual registered at that address as being on parole. So, probable cause, “We are assembling 2 special teams for this computer… next tuesday. ” LMAO. We is in no hurry, on top, we got surveillance over the weekend on suspect. 

    It is nicely written, has that Mike Hammer, Spillani touch.

  6. score so far: computers recovered – zero. felon fence apprehended -zero.
    likelihood of restitution – more than zero, but statistically
    insignificant. i’ll have to respect your decision not to identify the
    guy; that might be wise. but i’m guessing the internet could have found
    him, and that might lead to the other computers. good story to tell: 1. –
    meanwhile, keep an eye out for a rental truck with a big ass-magnet inside; they may try to wipe your computer.

    hmm, thought. what about the car? you could have that impounded and held for restitution. if it wasn’t stolen to start with.


  7. Steve’s ThinkPad was locked and encrypted. My Macbook Pro was in hibernation and was wide open, unless the theif reset it. Even then, my harddrive was not encrypted. Fortunately, I don’t save history, usernames, or passwords
    ^^^THIS!  Mac users need to learn security.  At my work they maon and bitch whever we tell them to password their accounts and turn on file vault. Macs are more than capable in an enterprise environment, so many of their intelligent users are not

  8. Loved the story–just wish the “drug bust” in the title had been for a drug that didn’t mitigate my happy sense of justice done with the sense of “why the fuck are they still busting people for pot possession?”

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