I packed up all of my gear and drove back to the office as quick as possible, ignoring many posted speed limit and traffic signs. This had never happened before. The house was in a good area and no one knew about any of the computer equipment upstairs. Pulling in the driveway down by the office, I hopped out of my SUV and headed towards the main door. Jane was waiting for me outside.
“How bad is it?” I asked, hoping for some relatively good news based on the situation.
“Bad but not horrible,” Jane said shaking her head. “It could be a lot worse. To be honest I am not sure what was really taken if anything. It’s actually somewhat strange.”
I had absolutely no idea what she meant by saying a break-in was strange, but I believed it would become apparent when I saw what actually happened. The main door seemed to be intact without any damage or indication it had been forced open. Jane saw what I was looking at.
“It was open a crack when I came in this morning,” Jane offered. “All of the lights were off but I thought you might have been in there or back up at the house and the door didn’t close”
“It was closed and locked when I left last night,” I jumped down her throat. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Jane simply nodded implying she knew I was not upset with her but rather the situation.
“I didn’t come down here today at all,” I continued. “I had all of my gear with me and didn’t feel like checking email or doing anything else this morning before I left. Now I wish I would have.”
I walked in through the door being careful not to step on anything. The front office was a mess. Papers, furniture and various office supplies were strewn all over the floor. All of the drawers from Jane’s desk were overturned. The lockbox used for petty cash and for storing payments from customers was dented, scratched and now in two pieces underneath the desk.
“How much cash did we lose?” I asked Jane still surveying the mess.
“Only about two-hundred dollars. I had made a run at the beginning of the week after the deposit was paid by check for the large order. The one for the doctor’s offices. When I deposited the check and figured I would include most of the cash. I left two-hundred and a few fives and singles for lunch runs.”
“I am so glad we didn’t have thousands of dollars in cash as we sometimes do. Thanks for being proactive.”
Jane’s desk looked the worst of this room. Her monitor for her computer was still there but knocked on its side. Everything else that used to be on the desk was somewhere on the ground. None of it broken or damaged. It was just scattered everywhere.
I looked around the rest of the office. Most of the filing cabinets were opened with some of the files thrown around on the floor. These contained all of the billing information and contracts we generated for the various work I performed, everything from simple receipts for photographs to the more complex rights of use contracts when I sold digital images. All contractual paperwork was in the front office with a good chunk of it now on the floor. We had developed a strict detailed system for filing. Color coded even. It shouldn’t be extremely difficult to get it all back in order. The task was going to take time and was not something I had a great deal of these days.
I walked into the back room of the office where my desk was and the appearance was the same as the front room, just not nearly as bad. My desk had been gone through with all of the drawers overturned on the floor. Similar to Jane’s, my monitor laid on its side on the desk. Everything else normally there was scattered over the floor. There was less paper here, only for the simple fact there was a smaller amount in the room to begin with.
My senses picked up Jane was behind me, not saying anything but rather letting me take it all in to make meaningful observations and objective conclusions on my own. It was like she didn’t want me to influence what I was seeing and any conclusions I was forming.
Without saying a word I went upstairs to see the damage. Upstairs is the area where I was most concerned about. It held all of my expensive camera equipment as well as the top of the line computers and printers. To my complete disbelief, the entire floor had not been touched at all. It looked exactly the same as when it was left last. At least there was some good news. Some very good news actually. I made a mental note to increase the frequency of our off-site backups of my photographs and other digital files to daily instead of weekly.
I walked back down the stairs to talk to Jane. Bruno was there, looking around taking it all in. I had called him right after Jane let me know the office had been broken into.
“When it rains, it pours,” Bruno started. “How bad is it upstairs?”
“It looks like they never made it up there,” I answered. “Thankfully. A robbery of this equipment would have been catastrophic. All of the camera equipment and computers are untouched.”
“So what did they take?” Bruno asked.
The fact they took nothing had me confused. Other than the cash in the lockbox, it doesn’t look like anything was taken nor was anything damaged. The office records and equipment on the first floor were everywhere but nothing appeared to be missing except the petty cash.
Jane finally chimed in after watching me think to myself for a minute. “There was a little over two hundred dollars in the lockbox they stole. Honestly, I think that’s it. Everything else is an absolute fucking mess. Sorry.”
She looked a little embarrassed for her language for the first time in our history but continued. “It’s messy in here but other than the cash, I can’t find anything actually missing. No damage either. All of the pictures on the wall are untouched. Alex is right, whoever was here didn’t make it upstairs, otherwise we would have noticed. It’s a bit strange in my mind. I thought the worst when I first came in but this doesn’t appear to be horrible.”
I looked around at the pictures on the walls in both rooms and those were all untouched. Another good observation by Jane. She was here the whole time while I drove up from downtown, but I am not sure I would have ever noticed. I had come to the exact same conclusion. It was unsettling to have someone break in and ransack your office, but this really wasn’t horrible and could have been so much worse.
Just then a few other cops came to the door. Jane or Bruno must have called them in. After a quick talk with Bruno, they waited outside. Bruno wanted a few minutes to look around himself. Even though this was my place, you could tell he was taking it personally.
He walked around each room silently taking it all in. Looking but not touching. Thinking but not talking. He made a quick trip upstairs, most likely to confirm what Jane and I had told him about the intruders not making it up there.
Back down in the front office, he looked around again before finally speaking. “Outside of the lockbox and the cash, there is nothing damaged or missing. Could they have been looking for something instead?”
That specific thought had crossed my mind. “Maybe, but all we have down here on the first floor is billing information and contracts with physical signatures. Most of what we do is digital. With everything on the floor, it’s going to be hard to determine if something is missing.”
“What about your case notebooks for your private investigative work?” Bruno asked.
“Those are all kept upstairs with the photography supplies in a locked cabinet. I checked it and everything looks fine. No damage to the lock or cabinet and all of the notebooks appear to be in the same order I left them.”
“From what you told me and what I see, they must have gotten in through the main door.” Bruno was processing the scene out loud as he does. “None of the windows were broken and are still locked tight. The back door is locked and dead-bolted from the inside. There are no signs of any damage, though, to the front door. Was it locked?”
“Both Jane and I believe so. I was here last on Friday morning and I know I locked it as I always do. Locking up was ingrained in my head since birth by my dad. Better to be safe than sorry. I never leave it unlocked even if I make a quick run up to the house, unless Jane is here.”
“He is telling the truth,” Jane said. “Alex has locked up a few times even when I am still here.”
“I know,” Bruno countered. “Simply working through this situation. This all does seem a bit odd. Something must have spooked them as they were getting started. There are many things of value to steal in plain sight they easily could have grabbed, but didn’t for some reason. Maybe they were holding off for more valuable items they hadn’t gotten to yet. Cash and jewelry are the easiest things to grab and run. They definitely took the cash which says robbery but why nothing else of value? Might be something as simple as being interrupted before they found other times worth taking. Must have been some opportunistic kids out for a thrill. Unfortunately, property crime happens everywhere.”
“Why throw all of the paper and other office equipment on the floor?” I asked.
“It’s a power trip behavior you see in a lot of robberies. It makes it seem as if they are in control and have the advantage over you. By making a mess and disrupting your life, it puts them above you. Enables them and produces the illusion of importance. Makes them believe they are more of a man if you will. Creating chaos only takes only a few seconds where cleaning it up will take hours and hours. If there were two or more, they could have done all this in two minutes or less. Maybe three tops. Robbery and vandalism don’t take long. As you well know, a burglar alarm doesn’t do a whole lot of good against an organized and dedicated group of intruders. I am assuming that’s the reason why you haven’t put one in.”
“As well as the cost of monitoring,” I answered. “My dad was never a fan as they only tend to keep the amateurs away. A securely locked door will provide the same results for a great deal cheaper.”
“I agree. Not much me or the officers outside can do here. Take your normal crime scene photos as you do. I doubt we will need them. About all we can accomplish is to file a report and hope for the best. With virtually no damage and just a few hundred dollars in untraceable cash missing, nothing much will happen from the police standpoint. I hate to be so direct but it’s a simple truth. You most likely don’t even want to report this to insurance. They could use the robbery as a justification to raise your rates.”
“Anything else we can do?” Jane asked. “I am pretty pissed off about this. Sorry.”
“No need to be,” Bruno continued. “I understand completely. You suddenly feel violated and vulnerable at a place that used to be a safe haven. A couple of things you can do. Go through all of the records and see if there is anything missing or if you believe they were searching for something specific. This appears to be a simple crime of opportunity by some bored kids with a chip on their shoulders. I doubt you will find anything but it is worth a shot. Let me know if you do, as detailed information could help. Secondly, just keep your eyes and ears open.”
Bruno paused for a minute looking around the room again. “I hate to say this, but intrusions and robberies happen. Nothing you did or didn’t do. Purely bad luck.” He headed out the door and sent the officers who were outside in to take our statement for the police report.