When your fifteen year old daughter complains that she has nothing to wear, it is not an immediate cause for alarm. When she whines that she has no underwear, you send her off to look through the laundry. When you have to drive her to a friend's house in the early morning, to borrow a bra so that she can go to school, you start to imagine all kinds of scenarios.
Our single storey California Modern (in the fifties) style house was rarely left alone for more than an hour or two each day. On a quiet street, where everyone knew one another and with a home-office, book keeper, gardener, pool guy and housekeeper, as well as friends dropping off dogs for play dates and Lovely Daughter's buddies coming to hang out by the pool and consider how long they could get away without doing homework, I have to admit that it was too much effort and had never seemed necessary to lock the ridiculous number of exterior doors all around a house designed for indoor/outdoor living.
As I started paying attention to the disappearing underwear, I wondered if a friend of Lovely Daughters might be going through a kleptomania phase. It couldn't be any of the people I had trusted for years. Were we mad? Did the tumble dryer have a secret compartment that was eating the undies? And, if it was an outsider, who steals panties and leaves behind TV and computer?
After multiple shopping trips to The Gap (all you need is time and money) to replace the tiny and expensive, for what you get, thong thingies that boggle my idea of comfort but were the fashion du jour back then, the mystery undies still kept vanishing. We ruled that Lovely Daughter could not be alone in the house without locking all the doors from the inside and even then we tried never to leave her by herself.
I decided that it was our civic duty to file a police report, in case there were other strange goings on in the neighborhood. I knew that there was not much, short of a stake-out, that the police could do but I wanted it on record. It was becoming obvious that this was a sex crime. If there had been a subsequent assault on another family that could have been averted by a simple phone call to the authorities then I would have felt responsible.
The uniformed policeman who came out to take a statement sat with me, on the tapestry upholstered couch, in the sun-filled living room; surrounded by the perfumed orchids that I was able to nurture there, until a certain Artist claimed the circular, glass sided room as an art studio. I had kept the receipts of my purchases and the toll was mounting. The strange goings on had lasted several weeks already. The Officer assured me that there were no other related reports in the area. He thanked me and said I was right to have called in.
A week or so later, returning from Victoria's Secret, having replaced Lovely Daughter's newly absent lingerie, we called the police again. Another officer came to sit and smile, commiserate and shrug. His departure left us no closer to solving the problem.
The tally of the receipts was over $1,200 (Yes, I am organized. I document when necessary). We decided to take the law into our own hands. A trip to Fry's (one of my least favorite places in the whole wide world) a budget version of a Nanny-Cam. Not for us the movement sensitive recording device. Our mini lens was installed on the dresser facing out so whomever opened Lovely Daughter's panty drawer would be facing the camera. Long dangling wires stretching to the television in the next room were easily disguised amongst the strings of fairy lights permanently strung across the walls and ceiling. We purchased a blank video tape that could record eight hours of evidence and we covered the TV with a blanket, because we didn't know how to turn off the screen so that our criminal would not see himself as he walked by. Next was the laborious planting of the Decoy Underwear with pen marks under the labels to further make our case. Lovely Daughter had taken to hiding her intimates in other spots to be sure of finding them when needed.
Over the next couple of days we would set up our sting before leaving the house and whenever we returned Lovely Daughter would rush to see if the Decoy Panties were still there. It didn't take forty-eight hours. We had come home around 3 pm and I heard the excited cry, "Mum! The Panty Bandit was here". When we rewound the tape we saw a dark recording of a twenty-something, hispanic man in a hooded sweat shirt entering Lovely Daughter's bedroom. He looked around furtively. We could see the shadows outside the window shades behind him of two masons who were working on something for us, just outside where he lurked. He bent to grab a prize of dirty laundry from the carpet, held it to his nose and inhaled deeply, before putting it in his pocket, then he opened the drawer and rifled through the Entrapment Knickers. He wasn't in the room for more than a few minutes. He had the option of three doors to choose his escape from Lovely Daughter's bedroom; one out to the pool; one through the kitchen to the front door and one exiting on the side between our house and next doors'. We saw him watching the activities of the masons, hesitating and then fleeing out of the side door.
My thought went immediately to the construction site next door. Our neighbors had transformed their small house into a McMansion in a major remodel. Our Panty Bandit looked familiar, as though he might be working next door. This time there was urgency when I called the police. "Hurry" I said "The construction guys go home around 4 p.m. You'll miss him."
It seemed to take forever. Lovely Daughter and I were staring out of my front bedroom window, the only view out to the street. There was sweeping and tidying going on next door in preparation for closing up work for the day. A few cars left the site. When I called back the cops said "Don't worry. We are waiting for the detectives to show up but we have both ends of the street blocked off so that no-one can leave."
Suddenly we saw Hooded Sweat Shirt and were sure it was him. He crossed our front lawn and went to his WHITE VAN! (Every sex crime and abduction in the history of mankind has been masterminded from a white panel van!). The cops decided to wait no longer and swooped in to take the Panty Bandit into custody.
When the Detectives introduced themselves they were, in fact, from the Sex Crimes Division. They searched the white van and came up with the Decoy Panties hidden between painters' drop cloths. The Decoy Panties were then laid out on our front lawn to be photographed as evidence.
If such a thing had occurred when I was fifteen, I would have been mortified. (Admittedly my 3 in a pack, Haines 100% Cotton Granny Panties from K-Mart, would have taken up our lawn and half of the neighbor's). Lovely Daughter wanted to call all her friends over to join in the fun and to show them our true crime video.
The Panty Bandit had an outstanding warrant and left in handcuffs. He pled guilty to felony burglary, as I had the receipts to prove the value of the thefts. Many intimate garments were found at his home, we were told. When his case came up for sentencing I made a victim's statement in court. I wanted the Judge to know what kind of burglary this was. Panty Bandit got three years in jail but no listing as a sexual predator; the scales of justice trying to make a balance between a plea to a lesser crime and a sure conviction.
The Detectives were very serious about the future implications of this kind of crime. From Panty Snatcher to Peeping Tom; from there to Flasher and on to Assault and Rape. They told me that they were surprised they had not heard of my previous reports.
I had an impressive number of calls from Police Detectives over the weeks following the arrest of the Panty Bandit. They were from the Detectives of The Special Problem Bureau, more commonly known as IAD or Internal Affairs. My two nice visits with police officers early on had never been entered into the system. No paperwork had been generated. No reports had been filed. I am pretty sure that was career damaging for both of them and so it should have been.
As for my neighbors, on whose house this creep had worked, it wasn't their fault. How were they to know? The wife was a lawyer and I felt that every time she saw me she saw a neon sign "Litigation" flashing above my head. They were never comfortable around us after that.
Their General Contractor called to apologize profusely. I didn't blame him either. A few days later, in our mailbox, he dropped off gift certificates to The Gap and Victoria's Secret.