Ill-gotten spoils of…a laundry bag and Little Women?
July 17, 2010 10:37 AM   Subscribe

I only wish I were making this up… Do I live near some of the quirkiest thieves ever, or am I losing my mind?

I live in a small, neat, and sparsely-furnished apartment. A couple of months ago I was out of town for the weekend and came back to find that someone had broken in and my computer and ipod had been taken from my living room. I filed a police report, nothing else appeared to have been touched, blah blah blah, thought the issue was resolved.

HOWEVER, over the past couple of months I have noticed other items that I know I once had but can no longer locate. It's not a matter of simply having misplaced them, since they are things that would never have left the apartment and I've cleaned the place pretty thoroughly on multiple occasions. I now need to know the likelihood that this same laptop thief would also have taken
-my laundry bag
-DVDs of This Is Spinal Tap, The Fellowship Of The Ring, and Little Women
-a box of frozen cook-and-eat mussels in butter (no, I did not eat these without realizing it)

If these were not taken at the same time as my laptop, I have no idea what is going on. As Sherlock Holmes said, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." So…can you help me establish whether a Little-Women-and-mussel-loving thief is impossible??? Is there some peculiar psychological explanation for this? Is this what drugs make you do? If anyone has experience with this sort of thing, your input would be appreciated - I need to understand, and to know that I'm not going crazy.
posted by josyphine to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps a simpler explanation would be that your friends like Little Women and mussels. But that assumes a lot on my part.

Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation is probably right.
posted by Galen at 10:40 AM on July 17, 2010

Laundry bag: For some reason thieves don't seem to bring their own bags. When my apartment was burgled a few years ago they took my pillowcases, I can only assume to hold the other stuff they took, which was more typical small-and-sellable-stuff.

DVDs: Regardless of what they are, DVDs are small and light and can be sold easily without making people suspicious.

Mussels: I have no idea.
posted by hattifattener at 10:44 AM on July 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

The thief probably needed the bag to carry everything (they're not always good at planning ahead.), and then grabbed random things until it was full. Was probably hungry too.

Get your locks changed if you haven't already.
posted by Some1 at 10:47 AM on July 17, 2010

My question to you would be how many people have a key to your place, and were the locks changed after the last people moved out?

If you think someone is breaking in and helping themselves at random, it may be time to invest in a cheap hidden cam to monitor your place.
posted by haplesschild at 10:56 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Change your locks immediately.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:57 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

A common thing after being burgled is to remember or notice things that were taken long after the fact.

I've heard of stranger things that have been taken than frozen mussels. My pillow was taken. Not the case, the entire pillow. The cops found it a few days later, case and pillow still together. Go figure.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:57 AM on July 17, 2010

Both times I've been robbed the thieves took bags (pillowcases, my backpack...). I also had the experience of noticing weeks later that certain items were missing-- it sucks, I'm sorry you're going through this. It's impossible to rationalize why certain items were taken and others were not. Change your locks, get a dog, have some friends over and create some good memories in your space.
posted by bonheur at 10:57 AM on July 17, 2010

If disappearances are ongoing, I would worry that it was a neighbor or someone nearby who keeps popping in just to see if you have anything else --however odd-- they want to swipe.

Change your locks, check your windows, etc.
posted by MasonDixon at 11:00 AM on July 17, 2010

As far as taking bags is concerned, I recall the movie Following made by Christopher Nolan. The main thief is teaching the new thief how to burgle, and there is a reason as to why they don't bring their own bags and instead use one that's already in the apartment.

I know, a world of helpfulness, right? Watch the flick, and you might get a better idea about some of your missing items. (In the movie, they take a lot of CDs because they're untraceable and easy to fence.)
posted by King Bee at 11:03 AM on July 17, 2010

I don't think it's so strange for thieves to take those things. Some teenagers once broke into our house and ate ice cream from our freezer, played with our slinky (they left it tangled on the floor) and watched our TV (they left popsicles melting in front of it.) They and their families had just come to the US from some very non-Western country, which might have explained some of this (why these things were worth breaking in for and so forth.)

If someone breaks in, they'll take what they want.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:08 AM on July 17, 2010

Theory: 2 thieves broke in, one carried your computer, the other one filled the laundry bag with your ipod and the other items. They were interrupted (or thought they were going to be caught) before they could take anything else of interest. You didn't notice the items were missing until now.
posted by desjardins at 11:11 AM on July 17, 2010

Response by poster: Hey thanks everyone. The bag and DVD theories make a lot of sense. I really don't think it's an ongoing thing, more just me continuing to notice what's gone missing, which sounds like it's par for the course. Now I guess I just want to make sense of the mussels, if possible, because if hunger was the issue there I bet there are a lot of things in my fridge/pantry that are easier to eat than a box of frozen shellfish...

Galen: I guess it could have been friends borrowing without permission, except I generally do my hanging out at their places, not mine. My only real visitor here is my boyfriend, and having solicited his help in writing this question I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt on this one :)
posted by josyphine at 11:12 AM on July 17, 2010

Any chance the method of entry might have involved trauma to a hand or shoulder? Nothing like a box of frozen food to take the swelling down without dripping everywhere!
posted by fish tick at 11:19 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is it possible the thief got a set of keys on the first visit? Burglars, particularly beginners and teens, tend to hit the same places several times.
posted by Marky at 11:33 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lots of people hide valuables in the freezer, thieves know this so that's probably why they checked the freezer in the first place.
posted by Bonzai at 11:36 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've read the advice to freeze your credit card in a block of ice in a box in one's freezer, to prevent spontaneous spending sprees. The idea is if you have to wait for your card to defrost, you have time to rethink possible frivolous purchases. So maybe the thieves checked your freezer, and took the item most likely to contain a credit card and not actual food that a sane person would eat. :)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:41 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I was kid my mom's house got broken into. The thief took some jewelry (makes sense) a couple other odd items, and a small cloth bag from the pantry, evidently to put the other stuff in. (The bag was what my mother actually noticed missing first. She started checking other stuff after I insisted I hadn't done anything with the bag.)

My apartment got broken into when I was in my twenties. The burglar took my microwave and a few other electronic thingamajiggies. There was much more valuable stuff in my apartment that they could have taken, and I was really glad they didn't. They apparently grabbed the microwave and then a few other things that would fit into it to avoid attracting too much attention leaving the building.

Taking the mussels may have saved the burglar a trip to the grocery store. I know it doesn't make sense as something someone would break into an apartment to steal, but it makes sense if they've already broken into your apartment, gotten some valuable (and less valuable) stuff they can resell, and then think, 'hmm, while I'm at it, lets see if she's got something I could use for dinner.'

Try not be too paranoid. I know I was for a bit after I got burgled, but most likely your friends and neighbors aren't filching from you.
posted by nangar at 11:54 AM on July 17, 2010

My house was broken into some years ago. They had taken my guitar, my wallet and my then girlfriends phone. After the police came I went into the kitchen to get something to eat. Then I discovered they had taken my cheese and yoghurt.
I guess thieves just take what takes their fancy at the time.
posted by charles kaapjes at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2010

A thief stole the ashtray out of my car. Thieves making strange decisions is not so uncommon.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:11 PM on July 17, 2010

I've been robbed more than once. On one occasion, the thief took steaks out of the freezer. It's not unheard-of; the police didn't even seem surprised.
posted by penduluum at 12:21 PM on July 17, 2010

You know, maybe he had a taste for mussels. If you're already stealing something , there's no reason not to take one more thing.
posted by wayland at 12:22 PM on July 17, 2010

When asked why someone stole my beat-to-shit old Jeep Cherokee and left it, doors open in a crappy neighborhood about a mile away, the cops simply replied "it was easier than walking home." Same deal, the DVDs and food fit in the bag with the computer.
posted by wkearney99 at 12:32 PM on July 17, 2010

Here's my take on why he took what:

The electronics: to sell and buy drugs
The DVDs: DVDs and games are really easy to offload at a pawn shop for a set price. Burglars usually grab a few stacks of them though. If he only chose three out of a big collection, I suspect he's more likely to have picked them because he (or his girlfriend -- Little Women) wanted to watch them.
The bag: to put all the other shit in
The mussels: he thought they looked tasty

When we think of a burglar we usually think of the loot-focused guy in the black eyemask with the bulging bag of jewels from the cartoons. In fact many of them are a lot more prosaic and lackadaisical than that. They take stuff to buy money for drugs and they don't really respect property rights. Apart from that they watch movies and eat frozen food just like everybody else.
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:49 PM on July 17, 2010

Best answer: Mussels seem like the kind of effort intensive food that isn't going to appeal to someone who is willing to risk prison and/or being shot for the 20% of worth that a fence might give you for your ill gotten spoils. So, I'm thinking Bonzai's might be on the right track on the mussels. It's a box, and when you shake it it rattles. Perfect disguise. Or not.

If they stole your white wine, heavy cream and olive oil, though, all bets are off.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:27 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

A thief stole the ashtray out of my car.

He was trying to steal your car stereo by reaching around the back and unplugging wires. Ashtrays just pop right out and leave a clear hole behind the dashboard. He didn't finish the job, for whatever reason.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:31 PM on July 17, 2010

When I got burgled, I definitely noticed some things missing after the fact. And though I don't think I lost any bags or food, the thief definitely took some bizarre crap (a cinder block, random stuff from my bathroom, a wifi antenna) along with the more valuable electronics.

Is this what drugs make you do?

Drugs? Not really; there are plenty of drug users who have no interest in your Little Women DVD or your frozen shellfish, and there are thieves who are not on drugs (and not necessarily stealing to support a drug habit). If you're already robbing someone's house, and you see something that you've been meaning to get anyway - a DVD your girlfriend wants to watch, or some toilet paper because you're running low, some frozen mussels, or whatever - why not take it?
posted by ubersturm at 1:37 PM on July 17, 2010

Mussels seem like the kind of effort intensive food that isn't going to appeal to someone who is willing to risk prison...

I didn't know that mussels were particularly "effort intensive" and I bet the theives didn't either. Hell, there have been times I have bought an item from the store, looked at the directions at home, and said, "Aw, shit, this is going to be a lot more trouble than I thought it was gonna be."

Someone mentioned occam's razor above and I think it applies here. The mussels sounded good and tasty to them (perhaps it sounded fancy and high-end too?) so that's why they picked them for their munchies.
posted by mreleganza at 1:58 PM on July 17, 2010

As others are saying, it seems entirely likely one thief took all the items on your list. When our house was broken into, the thieves took logical things (small, expensive, easily portable electronics). They also took the following less immediately explicable things:
  • a sleeping bag
  • a pair of used running shoes
  • a large number of the foreign/obscure DVDs mr. hgg uses to teach film studies
  • sweet cheap alcopops that a party guest had brought over and left in our fridge--despite the fact that we had a case of expensive microbrew beer right out in the open.
From this I deduce our thieves used the sleeping bag to carry their loot. One of them has feet the same size as mr. hgg's, and happened to need a new pair of shoes. They also have crappy taste in alcohol and were dumb enough to think they'd get more money for "fancy" foreign DVDs. Since we couldn't find any of the DVDs in the local pawn or secondhand shops, I assume they probably ended up in a dumpster somewhere, but I like to think the thieves kept them and are now working their way through their new collection of Buñuel, Truffaut, and Kurosawa movies.

Your thief probably used the laundry bag to carry the loot, was smarter than our thief and took DVDs s/he could easily sell...and presumably really likes shellfish.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:19 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

...isn't going to appeal to someone who is willing to risk prison...

The average thief isn't thinking "I'd totally risk prison for that computer, but those DVDs? Nah, better not touch em. Not worth it." They're thinking "hey, free stuff - ooh, that looks nice."

We had a series of strange "why would someone take that?" disappearances that were followed by strange reappearances - turns out a 'friend' was pawning our things when he ran short of drug money, then returning them after payday. I finally saw the pattern and confronted him about it - he told me that the one time I let him borrow my car, he'd had my keys copied "just in case".

Locks? Changed. Friend? Ditto.
posted by foobario at 2:20 PM on July 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

My sister's cottage was burgled. They were missing cameras and other high-value items. Then as time went by other things started going missing, including food and small low-value items. It turned out the landlord's adult son had a key and was taking stuff for months. Either that, or you have a borrower, which is what my sister hoped for and was sorely disappointed when it turned out to be a borderline crazy guy.
posted by fifilaru at 3:12 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Building superintendent or someone who got keys from him.
posted by orthogonality at 3:36 PM on July 17, 2010

stealing "fancy" food isn't unusual if someone's gone to the trouble and risk of burglary.
posted by batmonkey at 4:42 PM on July 17, 2010

I had a friend who went to prison for burglary. The reason he got caught is he broke into a house to steal the usual but discovered a large collection of books, wanted to take some for himself but obviously couldn't carry them all off, so he started going through the books to decide which ones to take and then fell asleep while reading. IIRC, either drugs or alcohol were involved in that particular series of decisions. :)

So, thieves don't just take stuff they can sell (although that's usually their main motivation), they also take stuff they personally like for their own use. That would explain the quirky selection of things stolen. You're probably misremembering that they were taken at different times, although I nth changing your locks for your peace of mind.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:40 PM on July 17, 2010

There was probably a very impressed girlfriend or mother the evening after that burglary. "Oh, I picked these up and thought you'd like them."

My car was broken into. Stolen were a camera, a pack of cigarillos and a bottle of water.
posted by gjc at 6:23 PM on July 17, 2010

Had a car burglary once; they left the radio, but stole a backpack containing a VHS tape of schoolhouse rock videos and a small plastic orthodontics device. I also had another car burglary where I left the windows rolled down assuming I'd get broken into, and someone used a screwdriver to punch the door and unlock it instead of, you know, reaching through the open window. A girlfriend left her apartment to get laundry, and came back to her stereo and one speaker missing -- freaked her out knowing the person was a neighbor, and likely coming back for the second speaker when she got back. You just never know.
posted by davejay at 11:05 PM on July 17, 2010

I knew a guy who was a huge Jimmy Buffett fan - had the complete discography plus an extensive collection of live albums and bootlegs on CD. His house was broken into and someone took his CD collection - but took the time to separate out the Buffett albums and leave them in a pile on the floor. I think my friend was more upset at that, than he was at the rest of his stuff going missing.
posted by Gortuk at 6:50 AM on July 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

My parents left their car unlocked in the driveway once and later discovered that thieves had gotten away with a Michigan Marching Band CD, the empty case for a PDQ Bach CD and a broken calculator, but had left behind the seldom-used cell phone my dad had left in the car and all the other CDs. I don't think we have the brightest thieves in our neighborhood. Good luck with selling your bounty on the black market, geniuses!
posted by srah at 8:23 AM on July 18, 2010

We got broken into as students - they didn't make it far enough to the room with the TV in, but did take our hoover, two winter coats and a wallet. I had a wallet taken then handed in - the money was missing, but also a drugstore loyalty card as the thief thought they could use my points to buy stuff.
posted by mippy at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2010

My parents ignored the rental car agency warning not to park on the beach, and came back to a broken window. Missing were: one extra-large nylon grandma nightgown, a bag of cheese balls, an electric razor, and a slightly-lascivious airport-purchased novel.

Whatever the thief had planned for the weekend, I'm glad it was far from me.
posted by Sallyfur at 2:11 AM on July 21, 2010

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