Safe crackers hit twice in Oak Harbor

Greenhouse Florist and Nursery co-owner Henry Vandenhaak holds the bent hanger thieves used to fish bags of money out of the deposit slot on the business
Greenhouse Florist and Nursery co-owner Henry Vandenhaak holds the bent hanger thieves used to fish bags of money out of the deposit slot on the business's safe. The burglars got away with at least $3,500.
— image credit: Paul Boring/Whidbey News-Times

Nobody's safe is safe when criminals abandon their safe harbor to render formidable safeguards impotent.

The Greenhouse Florist and Nursery became the second Oak Harbor business in less than two weeks to have its safe targeted by burglars. The facility was breached sometime between Sunday and Monday morning.

After the thieves forced their way into the building through a side door, they presumably forwent loading up on Bonsai trees and instead made a beeline for the safe. A vain attempt to outwit and manipulate the heavy opponent's tumblers failed miserably and the hoodlums were forced to use plan B.

"They were unable to defeat the lock," said Oak Harbor Police Lt. John Dyer. "They tried to muscle through it. The safe was damaged on the front, but that was all."

Plan B, less than airtight, required comedy troupe-like improvisation. The unwelcome guests tipped the safe over to better access a deposit slot on the on the top of the metal box. The particular safe, a backbreaking Allied Gary Intl. product, has two separate compartments and a large chute whereby the deposits travel. When dropped in the slot, the money bag passes through one compartment and into another.

"They were somehow able to fish out five or six bank bags," said Oak Harbor Police Officer Steve Nordstrand. "And they only used a coat hanger."

Greenhouse co-owner Henry Vandenhaak said the robbers likely spent a considerable amount of time in the store. During their lawbreaking stay, the thieves rifled through desks presumably searching for money of the paper ilk. Readily available rolls of coins were not enough for the discerning miscreants.

"They took our candy money," an employee said.

"They pulled everything out of my mom's apron," employee Nigell Hutson said with a disbelieving shake of her head. "They were looking for anything."

Vandenhaak wasted no time in getting the safe back on its feet.

"It's already fixed," he said Tuesday.

The safe's injuries were sustained in the front. The co-owner still has the dial mechanism and the piece used to secure the dial that were torn off in the thieves' unsuccessful attempt to best the safe's front. Vandenhaak also has the infamous coat hanger.

"Obviously whoever needed the money needed it real bad," a calm, collected Vandenhaak said. "Most people respect others' property."

The thieves' take totaled approximately $3,500 plus $3 for the candy money.

The Plaza Cinema kicked off the "mini-spree" on June 28. The safe was considerably smaller, Dyer said, allowing the culprits to remove it from the premises and have their way with it elsewhere. The booty weighed in at $3,000.

Dyer said Oak Harbor has experienced safe thefts in the past.

"There's been a number of times we've had a string of burglaries, including some involving safes," the lieutenant said. "I think about four or five safes were taken."

Dyer said police often thwart the crimes by either catching the culprits in the act or picking them up for another infraction and miraculously seeing the activity cease once the person or persons are off the streets.

"We've actually had good luck catching them," he said.

Vandenhaak said in a small community like Oak Harbor, business proprietors and organizations like the chamber of commerce need to be active in spreading the word and emphasizing the need for ramped up security and continual awareness.

"If there's a trend starting, the sooner the word is out to business owners the better," he said. "This is a small community and it doesn't happen very often."

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