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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Panty Bandit

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.


32 comments:

  1. A fascinating story! I kept waiting for a punchline because you have, in the past, been the cause of some of my good laughs here at the computer...but no, it really happened. There were lessons to learn all throughout this story. If not for your perseverance the outcome might have been tragic. I hope (but doubt) that this guy was rehabilitated in prison.

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  2. Despite the good humour bubbling below the surface this is actually terrifying! Some guy feels he can make free with your house, come and go as he pleases and help himself to whatever he likes. Glad he got a custodial sentence but it is madness that he has not been registered somewhere. Yay for you and modern technology.

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  3. Wow! While reading this story I expected to get to the end and discover that the dog was stealing them.

    I like the sound of your house. Lifestyles of the rich and famous.....

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  4. I'm with Dave - I was expecting the dog to be the culprit. I wish now it had been. It must be so scary to be violated like that in your own home! Kudos to you for being so aware and so organized that this guy actually got caught.

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  5. Very creepy - I just saw the Lovely Bones and that makes this even scarier. Good for you for persisting and nailing the guy!

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  6. Is tenacity the word I am looking for? You are a soldier, a trooper, and a true example for your daughter of cool headed detective work. I hope the two police officers who took turns smiling and massaging your dismay are off the force. This could have turned into a horrible experience.

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  7. Techno, the police who had declined to do their job were the most disturbing part of the story for me. The rest was kind of funny.

    Kate, That's me; self appointed nail in the coffin of na'er-do- wells.

    Michelle, The dog was there. Diva is all about Peace & Love, not catching intruders. I did put a Beware of the Dog sign on the gate afterwards, as a deterrent.

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  8. Dave, The house was a rental, the smallest house on the block, tacky construction but a great party house. As property values went up in Palo Alto, more old homes were replace by new ones. After 10 years there our landlord decided to sell, which is why we moved two years ago. His 2,000 sqft fifties "Tear-Down" sold for 2.4 million dollars, in three weeks on the market.

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  9. Steve,Had you not received the memo that the justice system is not perfect? I agree, this guy is out again surely on the same track. It was obviously part of the thrill to risk repeated forays into our house. His prior warrant was deemed too old and never prosecuted. Our evidence was solid so it made authorities' life simple. I too would have preferred he be registered as a sex offender.

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  10. Lydia, We had some good laughs about this experience, both during and after. So many people asked about the emotional well-being of my daughter, which was kind, but not relevant. Lovely Daughter, Hubby and I had done what we usually do: identify a problem and work towards a solution. Problem dealt with, move on to the next one.

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  11. I find this disturbing, the plea bargaining bit I mean. I work with high risk sex offenders here in blighty and there is now no room for plea bargaining with anything that indicates offences of a sexual nature. It's my job to assess the offender pre trial and sentence and inform the judge's decisions. He won't stop at panties.

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  12. St Jude, I am happy, and not surprised, that the U.K. is better at seeing the reality of sex criminals. Of Course, panty stealing is a gateway to worse things. The best I could do was speak at the hearing and hope the record would reflect that somewhere in the future. When they had told me he had a previous warrant for theft, it hadn't occurred to the police, on their own initiative, to find out what he had stolen before. When I suggested they look into it they found he had been stealing more of the same, underwear. There are too few people interested in questioning their own work and making a little extra effort. A major deficiency in management, training and accountability. I don't have a solution. Thanks for the good work you do. It must be rough some/most days.

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  13. White van man strikes again! White van man/panty sniffer/hoodie, could he have been more stereotypical?

    Did the undie vouchers cover the cost of the stolen ones? Come to M 'n' S, for £5 you get a pack of 4 demure white cotton knickers.

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  14. I too thought it was going to be the dog. When I was a kid, we had a bloke in our area who was stealing knickers off people's washing lines - including ours. He was caught eventually too. Creepy to think someone's been in your house touching your stuff, though.

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  15. There certainly are some odd people about. You must have heaved a sigh of relief when this man was caught and locked up.

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  16. It is appalling that they were able to plea bargain. What a story.

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  17. Oh yuck, English Rider.

    How the heck did he keep getting into your home? That thought and the sniffing upset me the most.

    In blogged about this same subject on my old LCC site when I had someone stealing my (clean) huge Granny Panties off the (common) washing line at the apartment complex where we lived. This happened just after I moved to France, we'd been here less than a year.
    I could never suss it out.
    Why would someone steal women's white, 100% cotton, full briefs, obviously used and not in the least new? I never caught the guy doing it, however it stopped when a certain weird man was hauled off to do a forced 'cure'. (Alcoholism hospital.) Then a neighbour mentioned she had seen him 'lurking' around the washing line, a lot.

    Still... why?

    Then much later, when I mentioned this to some friends who are far more 'worldly' than myself, I was linked to a site that sells 'Manties', and the penny finally dropped.

    So, again, yuck.

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  18. Friko, such a stereotype. They should take DNA samples from anyone registering a white van! Yes, the gift certificates were appropriate. If it were for me I would have made a profit on the deal. Fifteen year old girls are very specific about what is acceptable apparel. Remember, she is half French.

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  19. Argent, what is it with everyone blaming the dog? I thought dogs only ate homework.

    Martin, I always enjoy checking off something in the Problems Solved list.

    Happy Hour, It promises to be a fresh problem further down the line. It's not right but the justice system isn't really about right and wrong. Unfortunately.

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  20. Kitty, You missed the part about us never locking our multiple doors:) Thank you for the enlightening image of "Manties" and of course they can't go out in France and buy their own. LOL The sniffing is horrendous and if that vision didn't stop someone from throwing her used panties on the floor, nothing will.

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  21. That is downright creepy.

    Don't know what elses to say that hasn't already been said. I think the idea of a stranger in the house is the worst part of it.

    And $1200 is a lot of lingerie. I'm not surprised you persisted in solving the crime that at least two police officers felt was just the lunatic ranting of a mad housewife--or something. I agree that their dismissal of your complaint is really upsetting.

    Eech.

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  22. Jean, I don't know why exactly but our lives seem to include multiple moments that not everyone experiences. This one really underscored for me the psychological strength of my Lovely Daughter. I did not raise a victim, that's for sure. She was a little disappointed that the newspaper article did not print her name, as she was a minor. The whole episode from start to finish must have lasted over two months. That man was in our house more than two dozen times. He did not break us down or change our lives and he went to jail.

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  23. Jean, I don't know why exactly but our lives seem to include multiple moments that not everyone experiences. This one really underscored for me the psychological strength of my Lovely Daughter. I did not raise a victim, that's for sure. She was a little disappointed that the newspaper article did not print her name, as she was a minor. The whole episode from start to finish must have lasted over two months. That man was in our house more than two dozen times. He did not break us down or change our lives and he went to jail.

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  24. Holy cow! I have never heard a story like this, ER. It was a bit amazing that the police took you so seriously at the time of your official complaint, but good for them. Very clever of you all to set up a sting, and satisfying to have an answer and a end to it all.
    There is really nothing anyone can invent (story-wise) that even comes close to what happens in real life, hmm?

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  25. I also was expecting a twist in the tale.. the fact this was a real story is just terrifying! It never fails to amaze me how crimes like this don't seem to be taken very seriously. You were so lucky the police took you seriously and came out when they did.
    I think I would have had to have moved, the thought of a sexually driven wierdo creeping round my house would completely freak me out!

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  26. Deborah, The first two policemen who came out never filed a report or took this seriously at all. They completely ignored procedure and only pretended to do their jobs. Those officers got in big trouble with their superiors when it all came out. I agree that not every community would send someone out for, at the time, a trivial crime report. I would have understood if they asked me to go in to make a report but they didn't. I still see the police force and the citizens as team players, who should work together, despite several experiences to the contrary.

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  27. Watercats, why am I not surprised that you have a white van? :)
    Regarding the creeped out/trust issues, I would have been way more worried if the problem had just stopped and we were left to wonder. The fact that there was a concrete solution sort of wrapped it all up for us. A long ago crime that upsets me still today was the theft of my jodhpur boots from beside my straw-bale bed where I was sleeping amongst the horses I was caring for, in the rain and mud, at Munich Olympic Stadium. Who steals from an exhausted and underpaid groom?

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  28. What a horrifying story... I'd be concerned about what might happen when the guy got out of jail. Hopefully he's still in jail ? Or was this longer than three years ago ? I have the impression that jail time tends to aggravate certain people's sexual problems.

    There are too many sick people at large in this world, our society breeds monsters at an alarming rate. Not surprising so many people in the US own guns, and use them on burglars. Here in France one does not have the right to use a gun on a burglar in one's own home. I find that incomprehensible. People actually get prosecuted for shooting someone who was in their house.

    Creepy story, gripping writing...

    Thanks for the shivers...

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  29. Being the optimist, I hope the officers are still employed, I'll bet they do their job better after this.

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  30. My daughter read this to me when you published it. I think we spent two hours or more talking about it.

    This was the type of person I studied for years. It wasn't until the 1970's that the true nature of the "panty thief" was brought to light.

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  31. @eloh Lots to learn, unfortunately.

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