A very puzzling event. Opinions solicited.
August 11, 2007 4:31 PM   Subscribe

What if someone broke into your house and killed your fish?

My son and I have two fish tanks. One big 90 litre tank with 5 tropical fish, and, beside it, a smaller cold tank with 3 fish. We were away for a week, and my father came in to feed them on Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday was fine. When he came in on Thursday, he found that someone had been in the house. A chair had been moved, the sweeping brush too, and there was a damp towel on the radiator. But, get this, whoever it was had drained our entire tropical tank, and left the fish dry and dead. Without making a mess. They did it very neatly. They did nothing else whatsoever. There was all sorts of stuff to steal: computers, iPods, t.v.s, etc. Nothing is gone. The cold tank is untouched. What does anyone make of this? (I don't know of anyone who has a key. I'm not aware of any grudges against me.) All thoughts welcome.
posted by fcummins to Human Relations (43 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a cat?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:34 PM on August 11, 2007

Cats can drain fish tanks?

I think it's worth asking the cops about this - someone breaking into your house is a crime, even without thievery, and maybe even alerting the local ASPCA to this sort of thing would be worth it.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 4:36 PM on August 11, 2007

Maybe your father forgot to feed your fish, and killed them to cover his tracks!
posted by borkingchikapa at 4:37 PM on August 11, 2007 [8 favorites]

To go to all that trouble? Revenge. I'd start looking at everything from a forgotten road rage incident to axe-grinding coworkers.
posted by rolypolyman at 4:46 PM on August 11, 2007

Take out the fish and refill the tank with water in the tank to see if there's a leak or fissure somewhere. If there is, my guess is that your Dad cracked the tank.
posted by iconomy at 4:47 PM on August 11, 2007

I'm almost positive there was a Monk episode about almost exactly this.

I agree it's very strange...but you shouldn't completely dismiss it. Definitely report it to the police.

There's no reason anyone would want your fish (either dead or alive...), right? Or 90 liters of water, I suppose...?

Very, very strange.
posted by DMan at 4:47 PM on August 11, 2007

Someone is setting your father up to appear to have accidentally killed the fish and faked a mysterious break-in as a cover.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:49 PM on August 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

Your Dad accidentally killed your tropical fish and he doesn't want to look foolish?

You should file a police report just in case they took something you haven't noticed yet (spare car keys?) or something that isn't noticeable (like CC numbers from those bills in your filing cabinet).
posted by Mitheral at 4:50 PM on August 11, 2007

I'd be very concerned, especially if you are female. Definitely call the police, change the locks and consider an alarm system.
posted by TorontoSandy at 4:50 PM on August 11, 2007

Yeah, on rereading, I'm inclined to agree with iconomy, and if it's revenge, it probably has to do with your son... teens are more likely to do stuff like that, I think, than adults. My money now is on the father accidentally messing up the fish tank somehow.
posted by rolypolyman at 4:50 PM on August 11, 2007

Did this intruder have a key? Is that the only way the could have gotten into the house? If the house was open and vacant, I could imagine some bored teenagers thinking this was a really clever stunt. How old is your son? Does he have anyone in his life with a grudge against him?

I have to say, if the house was locked (or if that's what your father says), I think him accidentally killing the fish (over feeding, maybe?) and then trying to cover his tracks by a mystery intruder is the likeliest story.

The wet towel is a curious detail. I wonder what that was for.

Upshot: Change your locks, have someone other than your dad fish-sit in the future.

Let us know if you discover the culprit.
posted by tk at 4:53 PM on August 11, 2007

The damp towel suggests an attempted clean-up. Is your father given to telling lies or tall tales to cover up misdeeds? The break-in theory sounds like a red herring to me.
posted by Soliloquy at 4:56 PM on August 11, 2007

The wet towel is a curious detail. I wonder what that was for.

I would lay a wet towel on a radiator to dry it (if it was one) or just to let it dry (if it was closed). I have a wet towel because I was sopping up water that had drained from a fish tank. I would sop up the water because I knew the owner of the home and feel responsible for their property that I had either damaged or found damaged already.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2007

To elaborate on my comment, I'm thinking your Dad cracked the tank on Tuesday (and possibly didn't even know he had done it), and was shocked when he returned on Thursday to see that all the water had drained out. He cleaned up, and forgot to take the rag off of the radiator. He's scared to tell you.

If he starts moonlighting as a gigolo, all bets are off.
posted by iconomy at 4:58 PM on August 11, 2007

The wet towel is a curious detail. I wonder what that was for.

To clean up water spilled while emptying the tank with a bucket, of course. Putting it on the radiator is also a good way to dry it.
posted by IronLizard at 4:58 PM on August 11, 2007

Preview, you mock me so.
posted by IronLizard at 4:59 PM on August 11, 2007

One big 90 litre tank

90 liters = 23 gallons. It's not that big.

So, let's start here:

Sherlock Holmes' Law - After eliminating the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is the truth.

The tank started leaking on Day 1. Your father didn't notice the falling water level, nor did he notice the wetness, which wasn't enough to soak the room. It continued leaking and dried up before he returned on Thursday. In his confusion ("The water was fine two days ago, wtf?") he mis-recognized that the chair, brush and towel had not really been moved at all, or perhaps he had moved them and forgot that he had done so.

I bet you have a crack in the tank and haven't noticed it yet.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:35 PM on August 11, 2007

I'm really sorry this happened. If your father isn't covering up in any way -- the most plausible idea is that he screwed up and is scared to tell you -- there are still some relatively benign possibilities. Maybe the door was left unlocked and some friend of your son's entered, either to (a) screwed around and accidentally break the tank, or (b) encountered the slowly draining tank (accidentally broken by your father), tried to clean up, and panicked, or (c) tried a harmless prank that proved not to be so harmless.

Maybe inquire as to who (a) knew you were going to be out of town, (b) knew about the fish tank, and (c) has more impulse control.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:44 PM on August 11, 2007

In my post "more"=poor. A paradox!

I don't know enough about the room or its flooring, but I would think 23 gallons of water on the floor from a leak would make itself known. Unless you have a neighbor downstairs, and she's phoned in a complaint about a ceiling drip.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:47 PM on August 11, 2007

Does your son party in your house? Maybe his friends came over to get some equipment or supplies and had an accident.
posted by Citizen Premier at 5:58 PM on August 11, 2007

23 gallons is quite a lot of water, if it elaked out into the room you would be able to tell.

My bet is on teenagers. It's ridiculously easy to break into most houses, I could break into any one of my friends houses in high school.
posted by fshgrl at 6:03 PM on August 11, 2007

posted by fshgrl at 6:05 PM on August 11, 2007

The most disturbing part of your post is "I don't know of anyone who has a key." You didn't say "No one else has a key."

If you are not absolutely, positively certain that no one else has a key, those locks need to have been changed long before this.
posted by sageleaf at 7:12 PM on August 11, 2007

When I was about three years old, my parents accidentally killed my pet goldfish and decided to "protect" me by lying about what happened. Unfortunately, their explanation was rather absurd and it only took me a few years to figure out that my fish didn't spontaneously turn into rocks as they claimed.

Whatever happened, I hope you get the satisfaction of a solution.
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:25 PM on August 11, 2007 [33 favorites]

23 gallons is quite a lot of water, if it leaked out into the room you would be able to tell.

The water didn't fall out at once. Remember, this is over the course of 4 days during the summer.

Let's say it's 24 gallons, for the sake of easy math.

Four days (S-M-Tu-W) X 24 hours = 96 hours.
24 gallons X 4 quarts to a gallon = 96 quarts.

So, let's say you lost a quart of water per hour.

Two days into it, the tank is half-empty. It isn't terribly unreasonable that absent-minded Dad fails to notice this. If Dad shows up early on Tuesday, it's even more reasonable to assume he missed the signs.

One quart an hour spilled onto carpet and padding (I assume it was carpet, yes?), with the tank placed against a wall where water could spill into the sub-floor, over the course of four days wouldn't leave as huge a mess as you'd think.

One quart an hour = One cup (8 ounces) every 15 minutes.

In other words, throw two standard-size shot glasses of water on the floor against a wall. Wait 7.5 minutes. Do it again. Wait 7.5 minutes. Again, again, again. That stain won't grow very large at all. Very easy to miss, especially if it's behind furniture (an aquarium stand?) and whatnot.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:45 PM on August 11, 2007

I was a teenager not so long ago, so I think like one.
Maybe your son told one of his friends/girlfriend that he was going out of town, and then the friend, either invited or not, threw a party/had people over in your house. Probably tuesday or wednesday night. (It is summer, bored teenagers get into trouble every night of the week). Then someone broke the fishtank. That would explain the moved chair, the broom (to clean up afterwards), and the towel (sopping up the water).
You can probably rest assured that your house is safe.
(I hope I'm not getting fcummins jr. grounded. He may or may not have known about the whole plan.)
posted by baserunner73 at 9:23 PM on August 11, 2007

fcummins, if you find out the truth say a week from now, please post a followup. I have grown very curious.
posted by ORthey at 9:37 PM on August 11, 2007

fcummins, IS there a crack in the fish tank? If you're fish guys, you'd surely notice. If not, then someone drained the tank, which is weird.
posted by salishsea at 11:19 PM on August 11, 2007

Maybe your dad's other personality did it.
posted by salvia at 11:29 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Things we need to know:

How old is your son?

How old is your dad?

Is your home a rental?

Is it on the ground floor, or is there another unit below?

I had a silly kitchen sink in my last place that didn't have an overflow outlet, and one time while filling the sink with water to soak some pots, I went to check my email... and forgot about the water running. I flooded quite a bit of my apartment, and there was so much water, I couldn't start with the mop - I first had to use the broom to push water into the dust pan, that I emptied into a bucket. After about a half hour of that, I could use the mop and towels. I was lucky that I caught it almost immediately, so it didn't leak down to the apartment below, and that these weren't carpeted areas. The next day, you couldn't tell that the floors had briefly been a lake the previous day, except I did have a couple of wet towels waiting to be washed.

If the tank cracked, and someone below you had water seeping into their ceiling, they might have found a way in, or called the building management/landlord, to clean up the water.
posted by taz at 1:12 AM on August 12, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks a bunch for all the suggestions. Here's just a little more:

The idea that my father would cover up an accident on his part is not credible. He's a sound guy.

The floor is not carpet, and there is no physically plausible way 90 litres can vanish there without leaving a trace on the floor.

My son is just 12 years old.

My father had the wit to change the locks immediately.

I'm still as puzzled as ever. If I find out anything else, I'll post it. Thanks again.
posted by fcummins at 1:21 AM on August 12, 2007

If the floor is tile/wood, then this explains the towel more - it's been used for mopping up.
I'm inclined to think it's not malicious, but more someone was larking around and had an accident and is now very embarassed.
Let us know what you discover. Is Ace Ventura in the phone book?
posted by arcticseal at 1:35 AM on August 12, 2007

fcummins, not sure if you saw my previous comment, but is there anyone living/working below you?
posted by taz at 2:09 AM on August 12, 2007

Response by poster: Gist of the problem solved. It was near midnight when I got in last night, so I didn't have time to try all this. Tank has indeed developed a small leak. It is still mysterious where the water went. This is the ground floor of a stand-alone house. The tank was on a chest of drawers with water-sensitive contents, all ok. Dry dust behind and beneath said chest. I'm conducting experiments now (if that's what you call it when you chuck jugs of water on the floor and watch), but at this stage, I'm pretty sure my father was plum mistaken about chairs/towels/brushes and there was no intruder. Perhaps my floor has a drain age point I don't know about. Thanks for all the help! I loved the theories. (My son has plenty of grudge fights, but they're all safely contained within WoW:)
posted by fcummins at 3:14 AM on August 12, 2007

For those, like me, who are only here because of the sidebar, I just want to be the first to point out that technically, no fish disappeared at all. I guess "disappearing water saga" just wouldn't draw in as many eyeballs, though.
posted by yhbc at 8:01 PM on August 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

Agreed, yhbc. I feel conned!
posted by knapah at 9:27 AM on August 13, 2007

FWIW, a long time ago I shared a house with someone who had a fishtank, about as big as yours.

It developed a leak along one seam, and over the course of a single day, all the water disappeared (except for water held in the valleys of the gravel, which stayed full as the crack was along a vertical seam -- the fish were still there, on their sides, but alive.)

It was over a carpeted floor, above a basement, next to a staircase. The carpet was not wet, the basement had no moisture, and until we found the open seam we were just as confused as you were.
posted by davejay at 2:41 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you have trouble finding the silicone sealant to seal the tank back up, the gasket maker tubes sold at auto parts stores are the same thing. It smells bad but, once it's dry, it's just inert silicone. I also use the light blue to seal small window panes when the kids pop them out.
posted by IronLizard at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2007

That was a great read. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 10:27 PM on August 13, 2007

If the leak was very slow, it's quite possible that each amount leaked had plenty of time to evaporate before getting the surrounding materials wet - particularly if your house is dry, as dry dust behind the chest would indicate.
posted by Miko at 8:11 AM on August 15, 2007

If the leak was very slow, it's quite possible that each amount leaked had plenty of time to evaporate before getting the surrounding materials wet - particularly if your house is dry, as dry dust behind the chest would indicate.

Yes but could the amount of water necessary to fill a fish tank leak entirely, yet slowly enough to evaporate, in one week? I doubt it.
posted by jckll at 10:50 PM on August 17, 2007

It was the warm tank, so the water would evaporate more easily. Also, the dryness of the house would maximise the rate of evaporation, too.

This link suggests fairly high rates are possible - with a theoretical maximum of 1.1kg per second per square meter. This (kind of, with a bucket load of assumptions) suggests that if the tank were open to the air, that it could potentially evaporate all the water away in 90-100 hours - 4 days.

Being as this all happened in two days - 48 hours, the water would have to have spilled over an area bigger than 1 sqm to evaporate. This is still possible if it leaked slowly, as filtered water like this won't necessarily leave a residue when it has evaporated, and it will evaporate quickly as it is warmer. Also, if the floor is dry wood or concrete, a slow leak onto that would easily soak away in that time without remaining damp.

Also, a 90 litre tank doesn't necessarily have 90litres of water in it, I guess, or it'd be brimming. The (previously mentioned) fact that it may have started leaking earlier and just not been noticed is quite high, too. So perhaps only 70-75 litres of water leaked out in 48 hours...

Looks more likely the more I type. Someone else can fill in any more details if they can be bothered...
posted by Brockles at 7:59 AM on August 18, 2007

Response by poster: Before this dies forever, I don't think anyone pointed out that the drainage really matters. We're coastal, big ass rocky underground mass, with caves and shit. Once the water got through the crack, it was gone.

I've enjoyed this.
posted by fcummins at 4:16 PM on October 19, 2007

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