Ok...this may take a little while. This is my archived story of how in 2011 I managed to find my stolen computer on the internet a month after our apartment was broken into -- and took it back! If you just want to here about the recovery mission you can scroll down until you see the header "Mission MacRecovery". Also - even though this is long (and even though I "make a long story short" a lot) this will probably be edited and added to over time. There is still so many other fun details that just didn't make the cut. Or omitted for other reasons. It was quite the adventure.
In early 2011, my girlfriend and I moved into the lower level of a duplex in the West Side of Grand Rapids. It seemed to be a great find. It was overall "nice", "roomy", close to my work/downtown and, what I thought was an awesome bonus, it was directly across from a park. We wouldn't be stuck in the middle of a neighborhood where the variable of neighbors determine your general feelings of safety and hospitality, but instead we'd walk out our front porch and have nature -- a pleasant, wooded park.
That changed as summer 2011 hit and three (chained up) benches showed up about 10 feet into the park, directly across from our house. For 3 months Jenny and I were bystanders to LARPing, chanting and what seemed to be about 3 different "groups" of people that constantly congregated at or around the benches directly across from our house. All this was of little consequence but what made us uneasy was the fact that when we left our house, there would always be people sitting on the benches looking directly at us. This led Jenny and I to say things like "the next time we have people over we should move those benches further into the park" but it was hardly a priority. That was, until July 19th.
On July 19th, with Jenny already off to work for the evening, I left the house around 6:30pm to do three hours of work at a radio station and returned home around 9:30pm. As I put my key in the door, I noticed Jenny's bike had fallen over. My heart didn't skip a beat until I opened the door, my eyes gazed up from the bike only to see my computer desk to be void of my computer among other things. To this my reaction was a loud, resounding "FUUUUUCK!" that people later reported hearing. After storming around the house, accounting for as much of the lost items that I could, calling the police and angrily walking over to the "bench people" that happened to be there at the moment with what people have described as "crazy eyes" and asked them 'how long they had been there' among other things.
Eventually the police showed up, wrote down some stuff and actually dusted for prints. However, long story short, nothing of any consequence ever came of that.
Later that night though, a number of facts were burning in my head:
I was only gone for three hours.
It was only 9:30pm and still light out when I returned home.
I had left and returned from work on my bicycle with my car parked in front of our place in the street.
These facts not only point to the idea of being surveilled but, given our circumstance, it felt more than obvious it was a "bench person". Hell, at the very least, with how often and constant people are out there, this points to a level of complacency on many peoples behalf. So, given those conclusions, I did heavy "surveilling" of my own over the next few days (It was also during this time that I posted "My Open Letter to the Thief" on the tree next to them). Due to the worries about the legality of my practices, I'll leave it at that. But, once again, long story short, nothing of any consequence ever came of that.
From here, aside from Jenny and I walking around the neighborhood with my iPad hoping to stumble across our wifi network (we have internet through the burgeoning technology of WiMax that allows our wifi unit to operate anywhere in the Grand Rapids area), weeks went by where I could do little more than watch Craiglist and slowly face the idea that life would indeed go on -- but I was certainly "dragging my feet" mentally on that notion (Give me a break - we didn't even know about renters insurance, let alone have it when it happened). Calling the detective assigned to my case did nothing more than shut another door on my hopes of catching the person who did this...someone that could easily be sitting in the park, still watching us that day.
Then, on August 4th, more than two weeks since the break in, I went to work once again for only a few hours. While there "Board op'ing" I had time to check out Craigslist for the first time in a few days. While searching, a post by someone selling an iMac, using a stock-photo, being very nondescript and at the very least, lying about the age of the computer, caught my attention.
This was only the third time I'd suspected a post enough to take the time to send an email from my alias email account. That email went a little something like this:
Obviously I was fishing for the exact programs I had on my computer. If you do not know, all three of those programs are not standard to a mac. Photoshop and Illustrator may be a bit more common but Final Cut Pro is a professional video editing software that is fairly expensive. So when he fired back with:
I was obviously ecstatic. Actually, I was much more than ecstatic - I felt vindicated. Even though it may not seem like much, as far as I was concerned, this is someone who is clearly not tech savvy given the way he's writing about the computer (so why is he selling it? Why would he have it?) and he just confirmed it indeed has Final Cut Pro on it, though he didn't say it in a way to give me confidence. That's why I responded with:
I regretted this email within the hour I sent it. This one didn't scare him off luckily, but it feels like I went for something a little too specific. I don't indeed have a "magic mouse" but I did have a weird, tiny laptop mouse. I was afraid I fished too much but alas he responded with "Ok ill hold it for u, just let me know when ur ready to purchase".
From here, I tried to involve the detective. After talking to her on the phone she seemed to agree there was a good chance this was my computer and instructed me to get his phone number. He wanted ours. With these exchanges began his shiftiness that only made him seem more guilty and the detectives specifics which led to this playing out for so long and almost not even happen.
In the next few days he made comments like "I just want to make sure I can trust u" which once again, only made me more confident he had my computer. But, due to the rigidness of how the detective would work with me, not to mention, him -- he eventually stopped contacting Holly P. out of suspicion. Luckily, one week into the exchanges between him and Holly P., I recognized the likely downfall of those exchanges and made sure to cast a new net with a new alias email address. Enter "DJjunk2369@rocketmail.com" aka "Monroe".
With him not responding to Holly for a few days, I was getting so scared that he sold it (it had almost been two full weeks since first contact), that, out of desperation, I sent him an email giving him my phone number with my second alias email. This correspondence had only gone back and forth once and was the polar opposite of what he had experienced with Holly -- and luckily it worked. He called me within 2 days.
He seemed to be vetting me by asking what I wanted it for. At this point I made sure not to ask anything too specific - and when he filled me in about what "Garageband" was, I sounded sincerely impressed. By the end of the phone conversation he had admitted he didn't know much about the computer having "gotten it from his sister a few weeks ago" and he gave me an address he wanted to meet at later that day. As soon as I hung up the phone, I rushed over to the computer, put the address into google maps and YUP! The address was about 4 blocks from my house! The park across the street is the closest park in the area! Out of all of Grand Rapids, he wanted to meet at a house just four blocks from where I live?!?! 'BAHAHA I fuckin' got him' is what I was assuming.
I immediately called the detective to inform her of the even higher pile of circumstantial evidence. At this point, the trend has to be impossible to ignore -- they just need to go check it out for me (as she once said she could) and then take it. But apparently, that was a false promise. It was only at this point, even with an address that's around the corner, the confirmation he's given me about programs, the use of stock photos, the shiftiness in details and meet up times, his lack of knowledge and admitted recent acquisition of the computer, that she told me "we can't do anything without the serial number".
To make a long conversation short, by the end of it I said to her "So you're telling me that I have to get someone who is willing to go look at it for me and when they confirm it's mine, their only course of action is to TAKE IT?" She said yes. At the very least she was able to tell us that that was indeed his house, that he was 18 and that she had only dealt with him in situations where he was a victim. Knowing anything extra, let alone all that, made the random meeting with him that much less daunting.
Side-note: I was really hoping I wouldn't have to do it myself because if it was indeed my computer it would have my face all over it or if he was indeed the guy that stole it he would likely remember what I looked like having watched us for many days throughout the summer. Basically, if he recognized me before I even got a look at it, I risked having him not even answer the door.
is a thirty-something guy who hasn't been able to look away from politics since 2010. Around the time he got tired of staring at religion.