Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Neighborhood Crime Scene

Someone buried a bag of money in my yard.

I'm not making this up--my little back yard is a crime scene. The whole thing unfolded like a cozy small town mystery, one of those pretty little books with the painted covers... except, of course, for the fact that the criminals live behind us.

Over the past few months, a series of small crimes--things taken from cars, like wallets, Ipods and sunglasses--have been committed in our neighborhood. We live in a small town in the N.C. mountains; our pretty little street with its mix of bungalows, cottages, the occasional old Victorian and a few unkempt houses veers into another street that leads shortly to downtown. We are a town of mountain folks, wealthy retirees, outdoorsy types, college students and artists, and nothing much ever happens here... which is how we like it. But over the weekend, a rash of burglaries on our street had us all on edge.

Saturday night, several cars and houses on our street and in our neighborhood were broken into, wallets and checkbooks taken, laptops and money stolen literally while some of my neighbors were sleeping. The thieves walked right in and stole things while people were sleeping. Another neighbor-family had someone literally start cutting the screen on their bedroom window while they were lying in their bed; the dog heard it, barked, and woke them up. This is disconcerting, to say the least. Most of us leave our doors unlocked, windows open, cars unlocked, garages and carports with things like bikes and gear just sitting in the open.

So, back to the criminals behind my house. The house behind us, despite it being a cute cottage that could use some loving from a good owner, has been occupied by a string of unsavory renters since we moved here over five years ago. (Not bashing renters, just stating fact.) Lately, it's been occupied by a group of young guys, high school to college-age, who like to party and who started a band, and who played loudly--and sadly, not very well--in the garage near our property line on weekends. We've been joking about the band with our neighbor-friends to the right of us, wanting them to cut the volumn but not wanting to be those old fogies who call the police. And lately, they'd turned the music down, so we were satisfied. Besides, it wasn't that far of ten years ago we were playing our own music too loud. (Still do, sometimes.)

If we'd known they were criminals, we would've called the police. They fit the demographic: the cops had mentioned they thought it was a group of eighteen to nineteen year-old dropouts, local kids who were probably high and who knew the neighborhood. But we just didn't want to bash on some teenagers because they played music. We were trying to be nice.

Yesterday afternoon, when I let my dog out to do her business, she raced for the backyard fence and started barking like crazy. I stepped out and saw that three men were in the backyard of the house behind us, one of them an older gentlman who was gesticulating wildly. I stepped out, certain this had something to do with the weekend crime spree. I walked back to meet them through our fence gate, which was wide open--and I asked the men if they'd opened it. They hadn't, and they were plainclothed police detectives, and they wanted to dig in my yard. They were pretty sure, thanks to my old gossip-hound of a neighbor (bless his nosey heart) that someone had buried stolen goods in our yard. I warned the detective with the shovel of the fact that the crime scene was in my dog's poop area, and if he was willing to navigate the land mine, he was welcome. They also asked if I could put my dog inside, who was not about to let the men hop our fence; I put her in the house, stuck my toddler on my hip and walked back outside to watch.

After a few minutes of digging (during which the neighbor gentleman's voice rose up an down an octave like an excited old biddy, giddy with being in on the action, "I've never been a part of something this exciting before," he chirped) the detective unearthed a paper bag with over a thousand dollars in it. The money, he said, had been stolen from a local businessman's house down the street a couple of nights ago. The hoodlums renting the house behind us had done it all, and while most were in custody, a few of their friends were still running around, so "be vigilant."

The detectives felt certain that the criminals had probably attempted to break into every one of our houses, and that only effective locks on the doors and windows, and in our case, our 90 lb black dog, had kept them out.

I've swung back and forth on a pendelum between being disturbed and just being angry that someone of ill intent has been on my land, in my yard, around my house and my neighbors' houses. That our lives have been violated by someone else's greed and immorality. That the sanctity of our homes--homes in which live our babies and dogs and other loved ones--has been disturbed. I've never understood thievery, or the urge to steal in general, and this leaves me even more baffled and irritated. Who the hell do those stupid criminals think they are?

The whole thing leaves us all a little more aware, and sadly, a little more jaded about the world in which we live. But I'm thankful that no one was physcially injured, and that we're all looking out for each other in a new way. I'm thankful for my gossipy neighbor, and glad he's keeping his wrinkled eyes peeled while he pitters in his garden. Most of all, I'm thankful for my big, bad dog--who is certainly big but SO not bad--and will no longer be embarrassed when she scares people unwittingly. In fact, from now on when she growls lowly during the night from her lounging position on the couch, I'm going to open the back door and let her out. And whoever--and whatever--is out there can deal with the consequences.

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