Investigating a home break-in: we weren't doin' it right

Artist’s composite

It was 2pm yesterday afternoon and Dr. Mrs. Oblogatory had an edge to her voice. “Come check this out. Steve and Edie’s (not their real names) house got broken into. Their door is wide open.” I walked with her two doors down to Steve and Edie’s, and, just as she said, their front door was open. The good doctor had already stuck her head in and noted that the place had been pretty well ransacked. A break-in. Eff.

Steve and Edie were out of town, as they’ve been most weekends recently. One of them has a very sick parent whom they’ve been going to visit a lot. I knew we needed to call them and break the bad news, and since we figured they’d want to know the extent of the damage and what all was missing, we walked through their house, checking out what the thief had done in the night. We also wanted to close the outside doors, several of which had been left wide open. We closed and locked the front door and left out the side door, through the garage.

I told Edie all this when I called her a few minutes later. She got home that evening and called the police. While they were there with her, she called me and asked, “Didn’t you say you guys locked the front door?” “That’s right,” I said. “Huh,” she said, “well, that’s weird, because it was unlocked when I got here.”

A couple of hours later we returned home and noticed the police were still at Edie’s place. I called her to ask if the cops needed to talk to us. They didn’t, but they told her to tell us that we should’ve called 9-1-1 rather than going in the house. We did something kinda stupid.

The whole time we were looking at the damage in Steve and Edie’s, I was thinking the break-in happened in the middle of the night. But since Dr. Mrs. O. had discovered the front door open, we had asked ourselves why we didn’t notice it earlier that morning when we took the dog for a walk. Later, Edie told me that the owner of the vacant house next to hers had been there around noon and saw that Steve and Edie’s front door was closed. When we left their house after our walk-through inventory, though, we’d closed the front door and locked it. When Edie got home, the front door was closed but unlocked.

The police surmise that the burglary happened between noon, when the next-door-neighbor saw the door closed, and 2pm, when Dr. Mrs. Oblogatory saw the door wide open. And they think there’s a good chance the burglar was hiding somewhere inside as we walked through the house. He likely left through the front door once the coast was clear. That’s why the door that we had locked earlier was unlocked when Edie got home. 

All along I had automatically assumed the break-in happened in the middle of the night and that whoever was responsible was long gone. I never even considered the possibility of an early afternoon burglary on a weekend, or that some freaked out dude desperate to avoid being caught could’ve been hiding a few feet away from us.

Lesson learned.