Cops and Robbers

Five years ago to the day, I got one of those calls at work that you don't ever want to get. The kind that makes your pulse pound and your mouth go dry. My husband was terse and to-the-point: "The State Police just called. Someone broke into our house. We need to go home right away." I hadn't had lunch yet but I wasn't hungry anymore. My gut wrenched as I gathered my things. I had an hour drive ahead of me and there was plenty of time for me to imagine a bunch of horrible scenarios. Was the cat missing? What was missing? What was broken? And then, of course: Crap, I didn't put the dirty laundry in the hamper and there are undies on the bathroom floor. It might have been the longest hour-drive of my life, or at least, it felt that way.

I arrived about 15 minutes after my husband. I had to park in the road because the driveway was filled with police cars. A few officers were walking around our house and our front door was wide open. My husband was standing in the front yard, arms folded across his chest, speaking with a police man. I couldn't tell how bad it was.

We were lucky. Our neighbor saw the whole thing go down and was on the phone with the police before the guy made it into the house. They arrested him and his get-away driver before anything was taken (which, from a legal standpoint wasn't that great because the district attorney had to prove intent to charge the guy with burglary).

The guy was tenacious. He busted up our backdoor, but wasn't able to get in, so he tried the front door. Our deadbolt did its job, but the door and the frame didn't look so hot after he finally gave up on them. He ended up breaking a window lock, climbing into our dining room, and then possibly face-planting in my rosemary plant (one can hope). The police were quick to respond, and when he heard the sirens, high-tailed it out the front door. The driver ended up trying to get away down a dead end street, and the police were able to make a quick arrest.

I walked through the house, checking to see if anything was missing. I tried not to think about how a strange man had been there. How he knew what we looked like from our wedding photos on the mantle. I apologized for the dirty underwear in the bathroom. The police officer told me it was nothing compared to finding a body. That really put things in perspective. What if I'd been home? I'd almost called in sick that day.

They dusted our windowsill for fingerprints and made molds of the tool marks on the door. Our cat was not missing (thank goodness!), and he was nosing around the crime scene technician "helping." I learned two very important things while watching him dust for prints:

1. Cat paws are great transfer vehicles for fingerprint dust, as evidenced by the paw prints left all over the dining room.

2. Fingerprint dust is like glitter: impossible to clean up. It smudges and smears. Repainting is your only hope.

A few months after the incident, we were called to testify against the guy who broke into our house. While knowing that someone had broken in, it was pretty creepy to see him for the first time, face-to-face. He looked so normal - not the scary, scabby, scarred monster I'd conjured up in my mind.

The getaway driver ended up on probation and was ordered to pay restitution for the damages for our home. The guy who broke into our house was sentenced to ten years and restitution. It wasn't his first offense. If I remember correctly, he was actually on probation for a previous break-in and had a pretty long history of criminal behavior.

Our house was targeted at random, at noon, on a weekday. If it weren't for our alert neighbor, the quick police response, and some amazing Schlage deadbolts, I'm sure the outcome would have been a whole lot different.

It took me months before I could sleep easily at night. I do my best to put the dirty undies in the hamper right away, just in case. I watch every unfamiliar vehicle that pulls into our development like a hawk. I triple check the locks on the doors and windows. I'm just starting to feel comfortable in my own house again. It's been five years.