Their faces were easy to identify, the vehicle was impossible to miss, and the license plate was crystal clear. These guys were busted, and the homeowner’s initiative was the reason why.
Geoff Quinn lives in Jackson but owns a cabin in Mokelumne Hill which had been burglarized “at least three times” in recent months.
After the second break-in near the end of April, Deputy Jonathan Alfred of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office, came out to Quinn’s property, took pictures and dusted for fingerprints. But the efforts didn’t produce any suspects. The detective, however, had a novel recommendation for Quinn – use a trail camera.
For most consumers, trail cameras are used to capture the movements of wildlife, and hunters, in particular, often employ them to assess potential hunting grounds. The cameras are motion-activated so that anything moving in front of the lens is photographed.
For Quinn, however, his aim was to capture a more sinister creature, so he went to a sporting goods store and spent about $100 on the camera. He brought it back to his property in Mokelumne Hill, set it up near the front driveway and hoped to capture the action.
“We got pictures of birds and pine cones falling down and cars driving by,” recalled Quinn with a laugh. “So we had to reposition it.”
The next time he checked the camera, he found more pictures had been taken, so he took out the photo card from the camera and plugged it into his computer.
“Holy $#%&! Look at this!” Quinn said, when recalling his initial reaction to the photos. “We couldn’t have been more elated.
“We got facial pictures and the vehicle and the license plate. A guy with bolt cutters cutting the lock. Pictures of them coming in and going out.”
Within hours, Quinn sent the photos to Detective Josh Crabtree, who ran the investigation and tracked down the license plate number to an address in Valley Springs. The address came up empty, however, so the Sheriff’s Office pursued a different direction – find the thieves’ vehicle.
“The vehicle they were driving was an orange truck!” Quinn said. “And we all kind of goofed about that, like these guys are really stupid.”
Ultimately, the Sheriff’s Office tracked down the orange Chevy Blazer from the mid-’80s – a rare combination – and arrested two men who admitted to burglarizing the property “at least twice.” They were put behind bars and arraigned a few weeks ago.
As part of their plea bargain, the thieves agreed to arrange for some of the stolen goods to be returned. Within days, an unknown man drove up to the property and dropped a number of items back over the fence. The items matched the description Quinn had given the police, thus verifying the claim.
Most of the stolen items, however, have not been returned, and for Quinn it’s not the financial loss that bothers him most.
“I built that place back in 1980, and I’ve had that stuff for 30 years or longer. It may not be a high dollar value, just sentimental value.”
Either way, he praised the ongoing efforts of the Sheriff’s Office for putting in the time and energy to see the investigation through and ultimately make the arrests.
“I have to say, between Detective Crabtree and Deputy Alfred, those guys made it happen, and particularly Deputy Alfred. Early on, he had nothing to go on, but he gave me every impression that he was going to catch these guys, and I was impressed.”
For the Sheriff’s Office, Quinn’s actions are the perfect example of empowered citizens.
“One of our duties, of course, is to provide security tips to the people of the county,” said Sgt. Chris Hewitt. “The ones that do take our advice, a lot of times, they’ll see the benefits of it, like Mr. Quinn.”
For those residents who want to take proactive measures to fend off burglars, Hewitt offered his usual advice.
“They need to be observant of their area and watch out for their property as well as their neighbor’s property. We’re also a huge proponent of home security systems, too.”
And if residents decide to use a trail camera as part of their security measures, Hewitt insists that it be well hidden, since potential thieves will have no qualms about stealing the camera as well. But as Quinn knows full well, a hidden trail camera can help catch criminals in the act, and he’s now an outspoken proponent.
“(The cameras) are inexpensive. And actually, they’re on sale now; they’re 60 bucks!
“I just hope more people would take the time to do it. By my helping get (the thieves) off the street, it means they’re not going to do it at somebody else’s place too.”
Contact Stephen Crane at firstname.lastname@example.org.