Burglary experiences and what to look for
August 30, 2007 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone experienced a residential burglary AND is certain who did it (or caught the thief redhanded?) Who did it? Did anything occur that made you suspicious, and what could you have done to prevent the burglary? I'm trying to hedge myself against burglary, but most people I know who experienced one have no idea who did it, leaving nothing to be learned except to lock up better.
posted by chef_boyardee to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Burglars will often "case the joint" (as the hollywood vernacular teaches us) before entering. Here's a recent MeFi thread that seems to indicate how this might call attention to itself beforehand.
posted by dendrite at 3:20 PM on August 30, 2007

Thanks, but in that thread there was no burglary. I'm hoping to hear about patterns that led up to a burglary.
posted by chef_boyardee at 3:25 PM on August 30, 2007

I knew a woman whose drug-addicted sister burglarized her house and stole her identity. She could have changed the locks, I guess.

Everyone I know who's been burglarized has gotten an alarm after the fact. Getting one in advance seems like a good preventive measure, if you're worried.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:28 PM on August 30, 2007

While I was at Berkeley. As a "transient renter" at the LXA house on Prospect. Actually, I caught the guy and held him until the police got there. Everyone was blown away. But I had been hanging around rappers like E-40, Andre Nickatina, and Master P since I was a kid, and knew the score.

What was I supposed to do?
posted by humannaire at 3:29 PM on August 30, 2007

Burglary here.
posted by eleyna at 3:30 PM on August 30, 2007

Well, my boyfriend's family home was once burglarized (and his dog maimed) by a tweaker kid he knew. So, not to be indelicate, but fuckups you know and who know you have valuables.

I can't recall how he made his entrance, but you can invest in window sensors and other security system components, and even if you don't keep up the service subscription, the sight of those things are deterrent.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:31 PM on August 30, 2007

my brother (who was 14 or so) caught two guys as they were burglarizing my parents' house. they lived on the end of a dead end road in a fairly quiet neighborhood, it happened at 3pm, and it was by some guys who were family of someone else in the neighborhood.

my brother walked past their pick-up truck, into the house, and soon realized they were strangers and ransacking the place. they didn't know he was there, and he ran out, grabbed mail from their truck, wrote down the license, and ran to a neighbor. they were caught, and my bro got a little trophy from the cops for being so cool-headed.

i'm not sure my family could have done anything but live in a more observable area. they did get an alarm after, and i think that's the safe bet: get an alarm system *before* it happens. or be noticeably poor in a good neighborhood, like me, and surround yourself with better targets.
posted by RedEmma at 3:37 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

chef: Umm, that is a pattern that would lead to a burglary. The subtext of my comment is that if someone weird knocks on your door to sell you something - remember wtf they look like. Because three days later, when your shit disappears, you have a description to give the cops.
posted by dendrite at 3:41 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

In the above-referenced thread, I did tell about watching a burglar casing, and then burglarizing, a house.

The house where I grew up was burglarized three times while we lived there. The first time it was burglarized, we came home to find my dog shut into a bedroom (unharmed) --- this was our first clue that something was amiss because we always let him run free in the house. We also found the clothes iron on my sister's bed at the back of the house; we assume that the burglars picked it up as a makeshift weapon in case they were surprised by anyone being in the house.

The third time, my mother came home while the burglars were in the house. She noticed a car idling outside the house when she pulled in, but it did not occur to her that the house was being burglarized. She walked into one door, immediately saw the TV set and VCR missing, and then heard the burglars go out another door of the house.

Here are some tips I've learned to minimize the risk of burglaries:

(1) Get good, steel security doors. Burglars can easily crowbar through a wood door. I'm not aware of any burglaries where they got through a security door.

(2) Get a monitored alarm system, with sensors at all your doors and motion detectors in the house, and place a sign out in front of the house notifying passers-by that it is alarmed. If this doesn't deter burglars entirely, it will at least force them to be quick because the alarm will draw attention to the house, and they're likely to only take a few items. You will be notified by the alarm company immediately in case anyone sets the alarm off; and when you get home and find the alarm system is still "armed," you can be pretty sure there's nobody waiting in the house for you.

(3) When you get new electronic items (TVs, Playstations, etc.), don't place the cartons visibly out on the street for trash pickup. It's practically inviting a burglar to come take this shiny new thing. As an attorney, I represent a lot of burglary suspects, and one of the most common items taken in burglaries is Playstations and other game consoles, and games. Cut up or break down the packaging for these items and discard it discreetly in the trash can.

(4) Dogs with scary barks tend to deter would-be burglars. There are ways to have both dogs in your house and motion detectors on your alarm system --- talk to your alarm company about that.
posted by jayder at 3:53 PM on August 30, 2007

It Takes A Thief is an interesting show that shows reformed burglars breaking into houses. This page shows some good tips to prevent burglaries.
posted by la petite marie at 4:00 PM on August 30, 2007

As the saying goes, I don't need to be able to outrun the bear in order to save myself, I just need to be able to outrun you.

In one place I've lived, exposure was the "outrunning". People liked their private yards, so many houses had six-foot opaque fences. This place, in contrast, had no fence or huge concealing foliage - just lawn connecting street and house, and some of the big windows facing the street strategically lacked the net/lace privacy drapes, so anyone on the street could see into the kitchen. To anyone casing the neighbourhood, it was among the most exposed (and therefore risky) house in the area to try to break into.

Over the years, various neighbours suffered many burglaries, one was broken into three times in the space of a couple of years, but never that place.
It didn't have to run very fast, it just ran slightly faster than the neighbours :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:09 PM on August 30, 2007

I've had two attempted break-ins at my apartment in the last year. Both times, the would-be crook had keys. It was a master key for the building, so it might have been an inside job (other apartments were successfully robbed).

What saved me? I have three locks on my door and they all turn in different directions. When I moved in, it took me about 5 minutes to open the door. I'm guessing during the first break-in attempt the guy got spooked by someone while he was trying to get in and bolted.

The second time, I was in my apartment when he tried to open my door. I made a bunch of noise and he left.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:14 PM on August 30, 2007

Our apartment was once burglarized while we were asleep. He came in through a skylight, and took his time searching around collecting a few things before waking us up by opening the bedroom door. As soon as he realized the place was occupied, he ran for it.

It was a very unpleasant experience, but the only lesson to be learned from it was this: sometimes bad things happen and there's just no preparing for it.

The place was a fortress-like loft-converted warehouse in a non-sketchy neighborhood with busy streets and lots of foot traffic. The windows were all fifteen feet from the ground, and there were two sturdy locked doors between the street and our (also locked) apartment door; the skylight was literally the only way he could have gotten in. And even then, he had to drop about twenty-five feet from the roof to get inside; I'm amazed he didn't break his leg jumping for it. There were hundreds of other homes and offices nearby that would've been easier to break into. (We're pretty sure he actually meant to hit a similar-looking office building across the street, and just screwed up and picked the wrong building.)

My point is, worrying about "hedging yourself" against burglary is going to be a lot of stress, and almost certainly pointless anyway. Lock the doors, have insurance, do the basics... then chill out. Maybe the worst will happen anyway, but it probably won't. And even if it does, life will go on.
posted by ook at 4:15 PM on August 30, 2007

Here's a great book that answers most of your questions. It draws the answers from interviews with the thieves.
posted by cosmicbandito at 4:43 PM on August 30, 2007

I got broken into and they stole my bass guitar and my original Nintendo.

Starting the next week, I could hear the people in the next apartment playing Super Mario and practicing bass.

The cops wouldn't do a thing.
posted by Kickstart70 at 5:50 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

My mom walked in a burglary in progress in her house once. She and my dad had gone to the bank and were going to run some errands. (In hindsight, they figure the perps must've been nearby, watching who was coming and going and which houses would be empty.) This was around 11AM one weekday morning. As it turned out, once they'd gotten in line at the bank, my mom discovered she'd left some of her paperwork at home, so they returned. When they got home, there was a car in the driveway that they didn't recognize. (My dad could've blocked it in by parking behind it, but he absolutely never parks so that his car blocks the sidewalk, which would've happened in this case. Would blocking the perp's car in have delayed their escape? Don't know.) Mom saw that the glass on the back door was broken, but entered the house anyway (wasn't really thinking at the time, she later said.) The phone started ringing, so she picked it up and heard a bunch of gibberish. At that same moment, a woman came running through the kitchen, called out "telephone, lady" mockingly to my mom, and headed out the back door. (Cops later said she probably had a partner out in the car with a cell phone who rang the phone as a warning when my mom went inside. Cops added that this is a good reason not to have your phone number printed on the dial, as was the style on the old rotary dial phone my folks had.)

My parents replaced the old wooden back door with the large window with one of those windowless steel doors.
posted by Oriole Adams at 5:50 PM on August 30, 2007

We were burglarized because we stupidly, accidentally left a patio door unlocked one day. That same day we had a delivery from a garden center, while no one was home. Actually, two deliveries, separate trips, from the same place. We strongly assumed the delivery person was the perp, and passed this info on to the cops. Whether they ever actually checked up on this, we have no idea.

But, the moral of the story would be, no matter how secure you make your place, if you accidentally leave something unlocked you could get hit.

In generally, I would say, take reasonable measures like deadbolt locks, and remember to lock up. Install an alarm system particularly if you're in more of a metro area.

I read something recently about security lighting, to the effect that you're better off without it. If you leave things dark, you force the bad guys to operate with a flashlight, which will tend to attract the attention of neighbors and cops.
posted by beagle at 6:44 PM on August 30, 2007

When I was a kid (during kindergarten) I used to walk to my friends house after getting off the bus since my parents were away at work. One day I happened to walk up to our house to check to see if they'd come home early to see that the front door was open and the house completely ransacked. I hadn't realized we were being robbed since I hadn't even grasped the concept of stealing or evil-doing in general at that time.

Later my older sister came upon the same scene and called my parents and the police were alerted. The burgler wasnever caught however my parents knew exactly who did it.

The weeks leading up to the robbery my parents were getting a cement patio put in and the contractor they hired had kept needing to enter our house to use the phone while he worked. Needless to say after the robbery the contractor mysteriously disappeared, his phone disconnected and our patio unfinished.

In our current house we've had a security alarm with motion detectors installed, which gives us at least the illusion of being safer. We also have our neighbor's (not just any neighbor, however; just the one we are closest to and have the most trust in) phone number and they have ours to alert each other to any suspicious behavior.
posted by zippity at 6:53 PM on August 30, 2007

What I'll say is, if you think someone is acting suspicious, trust your instincts. How that can help you "burglar proof" I don't know, but here's my story. (More burglar-proofing ideas at end of answer)

Years ago we had a rather large party, but at which we nevertheless knew everyone quite well. Except one new friend, hadn't known him long, and he brought someone we didn't know at all. He seemed suspicious to us, although I couldn't for the life of me tell you what behavior made this so. We're pretty sure he was the one who came back the next day to help himself to our stuff, especially as the next day our new "friend" denied having brought him to our place (we dropped that friend like a hot rock).

Anyway, next day, someone apparently climbed through an unsecure window (high ground floor apt) and comitted the following:

Put our own knives, including a rather valuable antique one that he'd have been better off stealing, on surfaces in every room. Cops told us experienced thieves do this so in case you walk in a weapon is handy, and in case they get caught, they haven't brought a weapon onto the premises, so lesser charge. I still get chills when I think about this.

Stole our brand fucking new stereo (this was back when people had these things called "stereos" on which they played "records.")

HID my sewing machine. I have no idea why. Maybe he was coming back for it and thought we wouldn't find it? We reported it stolen and then found it several days later hidden under the laundry. Bizarre.

Went out the back door, which had one of those deadbolts that you need a key to enter. THANK GOD I had left the key in the lock, because I'm pretty sure he was going out the back while I was coming in the front. If there had been no key, I'd have trapped him in the apartment. Ever since then I've always made sure it's EASY FOR THE CROOKS TO LEAVE.

On the other hand, make it hard for them to get in. Don't have locks that can be reached and flipped by breaking a window. Put burglar bars on all ground floor windows, and those doohinkuses that prevent the window being opened too far. Leave a radio or a TV on. Leave the house from a different door or at a different time each day. Say "goodbye sweetie" loudly as you go out the front door, to give the impression someone is still home. ALWAYS answer the door and the phone when it rings during the day. Thieves will sometimes call or knock just to see if someone is there.

Of course if you can afford it, security alarms are probably a good idea.

I've lived in the big city most of my life and that's the only burglary we've ever suffered, knock on wood. Good luck and don't worry too much.
posted by nax at 7:32 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your local police department will have information. At my local department they have a ten-week one-night per week course which is free and filled with great information. From the burglary class: if they are determined to get in, they will get in. The guy had stories of expensive security doors bypassed by the burglars going through the walls.

To me the most important variable is the loot. Professional burglars (as opposed to your neighbor's drug-addled teenager) know what is in there before they break in. Burglars like: cash, jewelry, guns, drugs, expensive art, expensive antiques. Most people I know who owned gun collections have been burgled.
posted by bukvich at 7:43 PM on August 30, 2007

In two different cities, I saw those who burgled me twice (caught one, gave pics to the cops on the other but no idea what happened). Same profile in each case: Teenage kids (13-16ish) who walked past the place on the way home from (or while avoiding) school every day, and presumably noticed that it looked unoccupied and/or contained electronics that were worth something at the pawn shop.

Also, a friend at work was robbed once by a temp co-worker who stole her house keys from her desk, then cleaned out her house one day while she was working. I know this because he was later caught with some objects that used to be in her house.

I don't know if this will help you or just raise your paranoia level. :)
posted by rokusan at 8:24 PM on August 30, 2007

Oh, and to second or affirm nax's hidden sewing-machine anecdote, if only for her benefit... yes, in one of the burglaries mentioned above I actually recovered almost all my stuff from a dumpster down the street. Found it on the advice of a friend I was lucky enough to be talking to later that day. "Check the nearby dumpsters" turned out to be golden advice.

The perps were caught when they came back at 3am to unload it.
posted by rokusan at 8:28 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Buy a very good safe, bolt it down (this is important, as otherwise they can just carry it out) and put all important papers, credit cards, passports, etc. in there. In case someone gets in, at least you won't have to worry about identity theft.
posted by la petite marie at 8:53 PM on August 30, 2007

Growing up my house was robbed three times and different neighbors had problems too. For a couple years my parents let in troubled foster teen (not dangerous ones, but ones who had dangerous friends) and now it's obvious to me that that was the problem. Whoever would rob us would usually go through a window that was conveniently left unlocked (windows that were usually always locked).

Also, another time we were robbed in a different house, but there was little we could do about it. My parents were building a house that was almost completely finished; the appliances were already delivered. Someone left a window unlocked (most likely someone constructing the house, like a plumber or carpenter), which let in the burglar who stole the appliances. After new appliances were delivered my dad made it a habit of making sure the house was locked down each night before we moved in. Then, one night, maybe a week later, my dad found a window unlocked in the back of the house. It snowed through the night and my dad returned in the morning and found footprints going right to the window that was unlocked.
posted by metacort at 9:23 PM on August 30, 2007

I really think most burglars are deterred easily. If you don't like the idea of paying 40-50 bucks a month for an alarm system, just buy a Brinks or ADT sign and window stickers on ebay.
posted by metacort at 9:28 PM on August 30, 2007

There's much wisdom in the following:

1. Don't go out of your way to make your home more attractive to thieves;

2. Look around you when you leave the house, for unfamiliar cars/people;

3. Have really nasty-barking dogs, and I say dogs plural, because it's riskier if they have to come in and deal with more than one;

4. Have insurance, and keep the stuff you truly care about somewhere (a) hidden, or (b) secure, possibly off-premises.

I'm in the has-nasty-sounding-dogs group, as well as the look-around-when-you-leave group. I also am lucky enough to have unpredictable, inconsistent working hours, come home during the day every so often, and have a beater that I sometimes drive instead of my better car, so there's always a car by the house (and not always the same one.)

So far, so good. But it's still mostly luck.
posted by davejay at 11:27 PM on August 30, 2007

oh yeah, and my computers are old, my entertainment center is weak, and really, other than a nice computer monitor, there's nothing worth taking in here. I think if someone did break in, they'd just look around, then say "fuck it" and leave.
posted by davejay at 11:28 PM on August 30, 2007

Suddenly it occurs to me, after reading some of the other threads linked here, that when strangers come to my door it generally follows the same pattern:

1. They ring the bell;

2. My dogs go apeshit;

3. Since I can't get them to shut up, I lock them by the front door (barking and snarling) and open the kitchen window, which overlooks the porch;

4. The person tries to explain that they need money for something, everything from teenage girls claiming they need donations for the family of a hit-and-run victim (odd how we get about one of those visits a year, eh?) to people selling magazines and whatnot;

5. I can barely hear them over the dogs, so after a few rounds of "what? hang on -- SHUT UP DOGS -- wait, what?" I shout that I can't hear them, so I'm sorry I can't help, but if they leave me information about the charity/magazines/whatever on the porch, I'll look at it.

6. They leave, never to be heard from again, sometimes bothering to claim that they'll be back with the requested materials.

The funny thing is, I wasn't going through this to be smart or clever; I'm just a bit hard of hearing, and my dogs won't shut up when people are at the door.

In retrospect, I'm glad it always works out that way. This is in a nice neighborhood, and nobody ever steals the children's toys we leave out in the driveway, but we do get a few break-ins here and there.
posted by davejay at 11:45 PM on August 30, 2007

We and our neighbor - a good friend of ours, were robbed by another neighbor in the same building.

And here's the thing: we and our friend-neighbor had helped this guy out many times, in many ways: we told him about the apartment when he needed an apartment, we gave him furniture and a fridge that we didn't need and he did, when he moved in. When he was hit by a car while riding his bike, and couldn't work, or barely move, we did a lot of things for him, picking up groceries, cooking food for him, loaning him money (our friend-neighbor, mostly, who was the one who had been acquainted with him earlier). And he robbed us both.

It turned out that he had gotten into drugs, and we were easy pickins: he knew when we were home, he knew what we had, he probably had opportunity to copy our keys, whatever.

How did we know it was him? We put it together. One of the things stolen was a piece of art our friend owned, that he had once told this guy all about - about the artist, how he bought it, how much it meant to him, how much it was probably worth at that point, etc. It was the only piece, of many pieces of art in both apartments, that was stolen. We also had one of value, but had never mentioned anything about it, and it wasn't taken - so it wasn't as if the thief were an art expert or anything. We confronted him, and he broke down and admitted doing it. The last favor we ever did for him was not reporting him to the police.

Moral of the story? While you don't want to be paranoid about your neighbors, don't be too trusting, either. They're the ones who have the inside track - so when you are protecting your property against intruders, don't forget to make provisions against those around you who know where all the vulnerable points are, may have a good idea of what you have, where, and what your schedule is. Never leave your keys sitting around anywhere.
posted by taz at 1:39 AM on August 31, 2007

Also, if you employ any maids, gardeners, contractors, etc and you ever fire any of them realize you are pretty vulnerable at this point. I know more than a few people that have been robbed within a week or two of firing someone that worked in their home. Also be aware of the families/friends of people that have access to your house. I've heard of cases of maids' teenage children stealing their keys and then robbing the place with their friends, because they know when you are on vacation or out of the house.
posted by whoaali at 6:57 AM on August 31, 2007

We were robbed three times when I was a kid, and once as an adult.

The first time was when we were away on holidays for two weeks, returned, went to turn on the TV but it wasn't there. They'd cleaned us out - brand new top-loading VCR, nice TV, Marantz wood-panelled stereo with the 7" of Joe Dolce's Shaddap You Face on the record player, my antique clarinet and 1940s sax, heirloom jewellery and stones, my grandfather's POW records and medals from the Burma Railway. The perp(s) also took a dump in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. None of the goods were recovered, and we never found who did it - perhaps if we had DNA testing back then we could have worked it out from the shit.

Then again a week later - we think people saw we hadn't repaired all the damage to the rear door and let themselves in. There was nothing left though!

The third time was the kid from across the street who hung out with my sister. He and his mates broke in and took only small items, cameras and CDs. He got 100 hours of community service but we never got the stuff back.

The most recent time was when my boyfriend's (former) flatmate had a meth junkie fuckbuddy, and we woke up to find her gone with four laptops, three mobile phones, my doc marten sandals and new balance shoes, my boyf's Redgren bag full of work documents and the flatmate's rare right-hand drive early-70s Mustang. She was found after she drove into a nearby service station, in the car (the only one of its type in the state and one of only 6 in the country), and some friends on the lookout quickly slashed the tyres and held her there until the flatmate could get there. This was never reported to the police, but we got everything back except the work bag and my shoes :(. She went to prison for assault about two weeks later, and my boyf got a call from the police six months later saying they'd found his bag in a dealer's house.

The important lessons from all of the above? When on holidays, have someone come in to turn on the TV/radio and the lights in different configurations every few days, get your locks fixed as soon as possible after a burglary, don't let your kids have little shits for friends, and never, ever live with people who like to fuck junkies - but be glad that junkies are dumb.
posted by goo at 7:55 AM on August 31, 2007

Our house was robbed about 5 months ago. Like previous folks have described, there was someone suspicious knocking on the door looking for info. In this case, the girl ringing my doorbell knew damned well I was home because she stood out there ringing that buzzer for 15 minutes before I got fed up and answered it (I tend to not answer the door if I don't know who it is). The house was robbed that afternoon by what could only be described as the most inept criminals ever, who stole a handful of dvds (almost all of the recent superhero movies) out of a collection of about 300, a Playstation 2, a Fight Club poster, a digital camera, a suitcase, and one of those Glade plug-in air fresheners. They left 2 computer systems, 2 other digital cameras, all the jewelry in the house (I'd left my wedding ring on a windowsill and another ring on my desk, and neither was taken), and a full set of silverware that was a wedding gift, plus the landlord's gun collection in the basement.

We knew how they got in (bedroom window), and I'm pretty sure that the girl knocking on my door was living in the house nextdoor. The police said that there had been a few break-ins in the neighborhood, had me look at some photos, but nothing ever was solved.
posted by chickygrrl at 8:00 AM on August 31, 2007

Our house backs onto a park. Over 17 years there were several attempts, and one successful robbery, during a weekday, when about $4k of stuff was taken.

The cops investigated... but unless there's witnesses, or fingerprints/puddle of blood from a known person, they're not going to solve it.

Sure we felt violated, but they didn't hurt the cat or make a mess, so it's just stuff. Insurance paid us some money and we bought new stuff.

It's funny; our house was one of the rattier-looking ones on the block. Since then we've renovated, so all doors and windows are modern and strong. we have our decoy alarm company sign. The porchlights are on motion-detectors. And our new neighbours have two dogs. So we're feeling safer these days.

The average burglar is desperate and usually not so bright. Just make your house harder than average to break into, and you'll deter 90% of them.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:59 AM on August 31, 2007

It may not be useful to you if you own your own home, but our apartment was broken into last year by someone with a key. It happened to someone else in our building, though we're not sure who as we heard this from the cop who came and took our report (apparently, they stole the same thing from both places--a laptop...though they also took, oddly enough, an ipod charger from our place, and we know they rifled through our jewelry boxes, though we have cheap taste, so that's good for us). Since we hadn't given our key out to anyone, we strongly suspect that someone with our leasing agency was to blame (they've had issues with some maintenance people with sticky fingers before). They of course denied it and wanted to charge us to change the locks...which would have done us no good as they would have just had the new key as well. Nothing ever came of it, but we've since taken photos of anything of value and noted the serial numbers, all of which we keep in a lock box (with another copy at our parents' place just in case).
posted by monochromaticgirl at 8:24 PM on August 31, 2007

Security cameras are a useful as deterrents.
posted by radioamy at 2:20 PM on September 2, 2007

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