This story is an account of my first (and so far only) foray into private detective work. These events took place in the summer of 2003, since which time my friend Raymond has been bugging me to post the story so he can link to it from his blog. Don’t say I never did anything for you Raymond…it only took 5 years…
About August 10th a plastic grocery sack full of garbage appeared across the side street from my home. I thought this was dumb. Why would someone be so inconsiderate? I had no idea what was going to ensue.
Over the next month more bags arrived. I called the police after about 2 weeks, and they said that I should get a license plate or description of the person and they would look into it. The next couple months I was out of town a lot and was super busy. I guess I just hoped it would end. It didn’t.
I was intrigued. I wanted it solved. I was paying attention, and a lot of patterns emerged.
1.) It was every day. Almost always before I went into work. On the weekends it was a little later, but before noon. (not there when I went out an an errand but there when I got back).
2.) It was always wrapped in the exact same way. Wet food scraps (potato peels etc) were always contained in a brown paper lunch sack. It was mixed with other garbage and then double bagged in plastic grocery sacks. The grocery sacks were always from Fred Meyer or Mayuri grocery.
3.) The garbage almost always smelled of curry.
4.) The spot across the corner from my house was the favorite spot. If the spot was empty, another would appear. If two bags piled up the next would be dumped further up the street.
I looked in the bags occasionally, hoping to find a piece of mail. There was never any mail inside. I was surprised to learn so much about the dumper just by looking at their garbage. For instance, there was an apple juice carton every once in a while. That made me think kids. There were tea bags most days–a neighbor who was also picking it up sometimes thought that indicated a woman. It was definitely someone who liked curry, as it smelled like curry and there were many bags from Mayuri grocery.
One day there was a bag of clothing – no food. It contained a couple of children’s pajama like pieces as well as an adult’s t-shirt. There were also a lot of hang tags cut off of new cloting. Most were for women’s size large tops or size 12 pants. They were all from JC Penny and all marked down 75% or more. This made me think that it might be a lady and a child.
Later the plot thickened. I found a tag from a pair of men’s pants, size 36/29. Now I knew we were dealing with a family.
I began to wonder why someone was doing this. Did they just not want to pay the $8 a month to get a small can of garbage hauled away? Anyone who lives in an apartment or condo gets their garbage included and has a dumpster conveniently located, so that didn’t seem reasonable. It was every day, so it was a part of someone’s routine, but I theorized it was somewhat out of their way because why would someone want to look at this every day?
So, I had a lot of ideas, but no way to figure out who was doing it. Time to get some help.
Planning for the take down
Our neighborhood just started a neighborhood watch in July. The program is pretty simple. An officer comes and speaks to residents on basic crime statistics and tactics. Each block also has a “block captain” who can be a contact if something happens. The program encourages people to be aware of their surroundings and to speak up when something seems out of place.
I e-mailed my block captain, Gary after about a month. He sympathized and said he would keep an eye out. A month or so later he e-mailed me with some great info. He leaves the neighborhood every day at 7am and comes back at 9am. He was paying attention and figured out that the garbage was always deposited between those times.
After I got a 2 hour window I decided it was perfectly feasible to watch the corner for that short period of time. But from where? My house does not have a window looking out on the corner, and it would be difficult to observe from behind my backyard fence. My neighbors up the hill might have a better view. I asked them if I could sit on their property and they graciously agreed (and actually wished they could be out there with meJ).
Their driveway was perfect. There were a couple different layers of trees and chain link fence that obscured the view from the corner, but there was actually a great line of sight from the driveway to the corner.
View towards my hideout. I was basically 30 feet behind the street sign.
Monday – Stakeout Day 1
I woke up early on Monday morning, rolled out of bed and put some sweats on. I was pumped. I headed to my stakeout position at my neighbors’ house at 7am. It was a clear cool morning, actually very nice to be outside.
I didn’t really ever have an idea of what my neighborhood was like in the morning. At about 7:40 a girl of about 12 years rode down the hill on a little scooter. After she passed me she was hidden from my view, but she emerged about 30 seconds later without the scooter. She was stashing it in the bushes! What a 6th grade thing to do. I am sure it would be waiting for her after school.
At about 7:45 a car came down the hill and stopped at the corner, but on the other side of the street from the dumping. My heart started to race, was this the person??? A couple of minutes later more people started to gather. Oh no, this is where the school bus picks up the kids in the morning and I’m here watching them from behind the bushes. I hoped that no one would see me. Luckily no one did; I think they definitely would have freaked out.
At 8:02 a vehicle paused at the driveway of the condo complex. Then it made a slow right turn and parked right at the dumping site. Bingo – this was my person. It was a late model green Lexus. A 40ish woman was driving and there was a young boy in the front passenger seat. They both looked all around the car, then the boy opened the passenger door a bit and set the trash on the curb.
They drove up the hill, right past the driveway I was sitting in. I got a very good look at the license plate as the went past me and rounded the corner. ABC-123 it read.
This whole stakeout lasted 45 seconds, but it seemed so much longer. I went back home and called the cops, giving them the license plate number. An officer called me back in about 10 minutes. He ran the plates as well as a couple of variations, but nothing came back. He was going to be off the next day but noted that when he got back he would check it out, or he would hand it off to another officer.
I decided that I would be out there the next morning with my camera – I would get the plate right.
Tuesday – Stakeout Day 2
I staked out the corner from my neighbors’ driveway again, this time with my camera.
I had a couple close calls where I thought the stakeout would be blown. Right before the time the dumper comes (8am), two separate cars stopped near the corner, one looked lost but the other one I am convinced saw me and (rightfully) thought it was weird that this woman with a camera was sitting in a driveway. Oh well.
The street cleared out and the perpetrator came out of the condo complex right on time at 8:03. But…there was a complication. A walker was on her morning walk right across the street.
I was scared that the driver would move and dump the garbage further down the street, out of my view, but instead she parked the car and waited 3 full minutes until the walker made it over the crest of the hill. Those entire 3 minutes she had the car door open and was looking back behind the vehicle and around to see if anyone was around…but she didn’t see me. They (the woman and her two kids) were making a ton of noise in the car, laughing and screaming. They looked terribly suspicious.
The car making the drop. Note woman looking behind her.
They dropped the garbage again. I called the BPD again and gave them the plate number. It must have came back valid, as they said they would send an officer out the next morning. Since littering is a city ordinance, it is best if the officer can catch them in the act.
Wednesday – Busted by the BPD
I decided to stay in the house this morning, as I think the people who had seen me on Monday and Tuesday were starting to think about calling the cops on meJ Tuesday night I left the day’s garbage sitting there so the officer would know where the dumping was occurring. When I left for work Wednesday, all of the garbage was gone. Yay!!! I knew that the cops got our woman.
So I e-mailed the officer who I had been working with, we will call him Officer Joe. I noted that I saw that there was no new garbage and wanted to know if he had a chance to talk to the woman.
Here is his reply.
From: Officer Joe Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2003 1:36 PM
Subject:RE: Garbage on nnnth St.
I got tied up on a DUI, but I passed the information on to another officer and he waited until she showed up. He saw her dump garbage there this morning and cited her. She was surprised to have been caught, but I think the problem will be solved. Call me back if it happens again.
I find that she was surprised to have been caught extremely funnyJ
I replied to Officer Joe, thanking him and his colleague for taking the time to look into and resolve the issue. But I still didn’t understand why she was doing it for so long and in such a weird way, and that was almost as important as having the dumping stop. I asked Officer Joe if he had any idea what her motivations were I would be really interested to know. I was going to be surprised.
Officer Joe replied a couple of hours later with some very interesting info…
From: Officer Joe
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2003 4:24 PM
Subject:RE: Garbage on nnnth St.
well, according to my partner, when he contacted her, she was not quite all there. He said she told him that she dumped her garbage every morning because she couldn’t stand to have any garbage in her condo at all, ever. She lives in that condo complex between nnnth and nnnth.
Happy to help.
Oh, I wish I could have been there to witness the exchange between the cop and the woman. I envision it to be something like an episode of Cops where the officer is speaking to the drunk person explaining the obvious. Saying things like “You know, it is cold out here. You really should be wearing a coat. Do you have a coat?”
That’s another funny thing. The kids in the car probably went to school telling all their friends that their mom got arrested on the way to school.
OK, all this is funny, but I’m still confused.
1.) Wouldn’t it be much easier to just put your garbage every morning in the large dumpster that she passed on the way out of the complex? No need to separate out mail and receipts. No need to wait until the corner was quiet.
2.) If she was going to litter, why do it on the condo association property that her fees paid to maintain? That would be like me dumping my garbage on the side of my property instead of just putting it out at the curb on Tuesday night.
One theory is Obsessive/Compulsive. I tend to support that theory for a couple of reasons.
1.) The way in which the garbage was dumped. She went to a ton of work to do this. It was at the exact same time every single day. It was wrapped meticulously. (wet food in a brown paper lunch sack and all other garbage then double bagged with two plastic grocery bags)
2.) If she did not want garbage in her condo she probably didn’t want to get anywhere close to the dumpster.
But there definitely were other options. Why didn’t she have her kids or husband take the garbage to the dumpster? Why was she surprised to be caught? She was nervous and watching all around. She must have known it was wrong. Why did she involve her children in this?
I never saw any more garbage. It is hard to say if she just picked a new neighborhood or maybe she started asking her husband to take out the trash?