It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in Asheville, North Carolina. Hurricane Michael brought nearly 36 hours of heavy rain to the Carolinas, and the rivers were stormy. When my partner, a seasoned kayaker, returned from the river, he made a simple mistake that we were all to blame. He dodged the downpour with an arm full of groceries, exhausted from paddling and desperate after a hot shower – he forgot to lock his truck.
It really was a perfect storm of mishaps. And in that storm, literally and figuratively, a criminal found an opportunity. Within 90 minutes, my partner’s truck with two kayaks and $ 1,000 worth of gear was stolen in the back of our front door.
It was a shock to us, but really not an unusual story. When you own equipment, theft is often not a question of “if” but “when”. According to the National Insurance Crime BureauIn the US, a motor vehicle is stolen every 42.2 seconds. Bicycle thefts are also increasing, with almost 2 million stolen every year. Kayak theft stats are harder to come by, but just scan your local Facebook gear exchange to find tons of victims sharing photos of their reinforced kayaks in vain.
Of all the vehicles stolen each year, one in five is recovered – and my partner’s truck was one of them. But it wasn’t because the long arm of the law had managed to track it down. We actually did our own detective work. Between Internet investigations, video surveillance material, acquisition in the neighborhood and sheer bad luck, we found the truck intact and all the equipment was omitted.
If you have recently experienced theft and feel hopeless, don’t give up! The chances of finding your property may be higher than you think – especially if you want to do a bit of detective work. So we took matters into our own hands and uncovered the clues in order to find our stolen vehicle and equipment.
How to find stolen property
Filing a police report, knowing your information
When the paralysis of disbelief subsided, we called the police. When filing a police report, Make sure all identifying information is availableincluding your vehicle’s chassis number, serial numbers for your equipment, identifiers, and other relevant information.
Admittedly, while your vehicle is being registered in a national database and your case is assigned to an officer, your stolen property is not a priority. But don’t let that discourage you! There is a lot of detective work that you can do yourself.
Remember that police reports are public records. So check to see if there have been similar thefts or property recoveries in your area. Pay attention to patterns. If you find that vehicles are being dumped in a certain area or a neighbor has reported a theft within the same time period, you know where to start looking.
In our case, there were six reports of vehicle theft and two recoveries over a 5-day period. Both vehicle restores were done within 2 miles of our address – a good indication that the truck was nearby.
Spread the word
Say what you want to say on social media, but it’s really good for spreading information. We instantly shared the news about the stolen goods on our social networks with photos, incident schedules and main features.
Encourage your friends to share the post with their networks too if you get the word out. Use local Facebook groups, gear change groups and message boards. Call junkyards, pawn shops, and thrift stores. The more people look out for your stuff, the better the chance you will find it.
Comb the internet
When the inevitable feeling of helplessness set in, we turned to the Internet. We continuously searched Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up and LetGo for signs of scrapped vehicle parts or kayaks for sale. If you can find your equipment, you can arrange it in person and notify the authorities.
Desperate for control of our own situation, I scrolled, refreshed, and repeated. If I may give you a few pieces of advice: Save yourself time (and health) Set up a Google notification. You will automatically receive notifications of new posts that match your gear description, so you can focus on other leads.
Monday morning I noticed a report of suspicious activity by a neighbor Next door. Sure, Community Hub apps can look like you have a nosy neighbor under your pocket, but they prove to be helpful tools for self-reporting of crimes.
Our neighbor announced that she had caught a man who checked the car doors on Sunday evening around 6:22 p.m. – our truck disappeared during the same period. Here it was: our first real tour. This new information confirmed a strong possibility that this was our culprit.
Safe surveillance material
With that in mind, our next goal was to secure surveillance footage to determine the exact time the truck was taken. Our house is in a dead end street that is connected to the main road. It is located in the heart of West Asheville, an area known for rockabilly pubs, music venues, breweries and, unfortunately, above-average crime.
With only one direction, the perpetrator was forced to drive towards the main street, past several shops with surveillance cameras over the intersection. So we called each of these companies and followed up regularly until someone agreed to help us. Don’t worry, be persistent!
Almost 72 hours later, we received a still image from a surveillance camera showing our truck turning east at 6:29 pm, 7 minutes after our neighbor reported the suspicious activity on Nextdoor.
Advertise the block
To say this discovery was crucial would be an understatement. The security footage not only confirmed the exact time the truck was stolen, but also confirmed our suspicions that the man reported on Nextdoor was most likely the culprit.
There was also a direction to focus our promotional efforts. My partner rode his bike east, knocked on the doors, and spoke to the neighbors to see if they had seen the man in question. It turned out that some neighbors had seen it and one had taken a picture of the man traveling south towards our neighborhood corner shop.
My partner wasted no time and went to the nearby bodega to request the surveillance footage.
Was it a divine intervention or a coincidence? Rather stupid luck. Motivated by the rapid progress of the leads, my partner enthusiastically explained the story of his stolen truck to the clerk at the corner store. Together they were looking at the surveillance cameras to find out which was the best angle to see the man when a voice came from behind them in line.
“Does your truck have Georgia signs?” someone asked.
“Yes,” replied my partner.
“And two kayaks in the back?”
“My kayaks are still there ?!”
Similar to other recovered stolen vehicles in the area, my partner’s truck was dumped in the early hours of Monday morning, less than half a mile from our home. It had been less than 10 miles and the kayaks and equipment in the rear appeared untouched.
A little stupid luck again. But as the saying goes, happiness is just the intersection of opportunity and willingness. We hadn’t wasted time doing the legwork and getting the word out. So we knew where to look and asked the right questions at the right time.
Jumping for joy after finding the truck
What we learned
While you can take significant steps to reduce the risk of theft, it is impossible to eliminate it completely. Here are the key points we learned how to improve your chances of recovering stolen equipment:
- Be prepared and keep a record of all important identification information, including serial numbers and license plates.
- Check your car insurance again – is theft insured?
- Invest in tenant insurance and possibly even a security camera.
- If you are a victim of theft, calm down, be positive, and get to work. Remember that public police records can aid your investigation.
- Be mindful of your surroundings, get in the habit of speaking to your neighbors regularly, and report any suspicious activity (but please, Don’t be “karen”).
- Earn karmic points by sharing the posts of other victims and by keeping an eye out for your community.
- Patiently and cooperatively hold law enforcement accountable.
- And this is obvious: under no circumstances should you leave your car unlocked!
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This humble bicyclist combing the internet and the streets does what Minneapolis law enforcement can’t do: track down stolen bikes and the perpetrators responsible. Continue reading…