Dumb criminals – Whidbey style

"There's plenty of material for a local show, officers say."

  • Saturday, June 24, 2000 7:00pm
  • News

“It’s not news to police officers that many of the people who break the laws are not the brightest bulbs on the planet.That’s why a new Fox TV show about stupid criminals has an abundance of material to work with. In fact, local officers say that Fox could do a show on Whidbey Island criminals alone.Just ask a local law enforcement officer and he or she can probably tell you a knee-slapping story of dumbness among the less-than-lawful elements of society.One such story comes from Oak Harbor Police Chief Tony Barge (though it was actually a county case). About three years ago, a couple came home to their North Whidbey home to find a complete stranger asleep on their couch.According to Barge, the man was burglarizing the home but got so drunk that he passed out in the middle of it. He was so intoxicated, in fact, that he drank a bottle of olive oil – along with a bottle of wine – thinking the oil was liquor. The man was still asleep on the couch – snoring with the TV on and cradling an empty bottle of olive oil – when the deputy arrived and arrested him.Similarly, Barge said the police recently arrested a car prowler who passed out in a car after breaking in. The owner found the stranger in the car that morning and wasn’t able to wake him.The police came and arrested the sleeping car prowler, who they were able to link to a recent spree of car prowls.In another case, a burglar actually got caught at the scene of the crime. Coupeville Marshal Lenny Marlborough remembers a case from when he worked at the Oak Harbor police department in 1989. Officers responded to a break-in at the school district building on Goldie Road.Officer Jim Covert and his police dog were called in to search the building. But while Covert didn’t see anyone, the dog kept barking at a wall. The officers looked all over – even checking the air ducts – but they couldn’t find anyone. Finally someone looked in the ceiling panels, happened to look down, and saw the burglar stuck in the wall.Marlborough said the man had been crawling around in the ceiling panels and somehow fell into the 12 to 14-inch space between the walls. The man was so jammed in that the fire department had to cut him out of the sheetrock.If they hadn’t found him, Marlborough said the man would surely have died.A couple of years ago, a crime suspect who apparently wasn’t thinking clearly escaped from a deputy’s patrol car after he had been arrested. The problem was, his arms were handcuffed behind his back.The man turned himself in the next day after he couldn’t find a way to get the handcuffs off.Another common stupid mistake among crooks seems to be leaving incriminating evidence behind – like a photo ID. Sgt. Russ Lindner with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said that a deputy investigated a break-in at a vacation cabin in Central Whidbey a couple years ago. He found a driver’s license and drug paraphernalia, which the burglar had left on the kitchen table.Barge said one of the people who burglarized the Cenex in Oak Harbor years ago left a wallet – and yes, a photo ID – behind. His officers were able to crack a rape case several years ago after the rapist returned to the scene of the crime to get the wallet he left behind.Serial rapist Paul Harrell terrorized Oak Harbor women in 1992 and 1993, breaking into their homes in the middle of the night. The sailor was finally caught after he left his wallet behind in a victim’s home.Lindner said deputies had an easy time solving a break-in at a Freeland convenience store about five years ago after the burglars drove their car into the store. They got away with cash but they left one thing behind – their license plate.They were an easy catch, Lindner said.In a 1984 burglary case, Covert said, a Navy man used his military ID card to open a door. But when he discovered that someone was home, he dropped the card and ran away.Oak Harbor Jailer Mike Kott remembers a story from a year or so ago about a burglary at a sporting goods store on Pioneer Way. He said Officer Pat Horn saw a couple of brothers walking downtown soon after the burglary. They caught his eye because they were wearing sporting good clothes with the tags still on.Horn stopped the men and ended up arresting them for the burglary.Lindner said Detective Sue Quandt had an easy time catching a drunk driver who got into accident on East Harbor Road many years ago. There was a fresh, undisturbed layer of snow on the ground and she just followed the footprints from the abandoned car to the driver’s home.Sometimes cops use the stupidity of the suspects to catch them.Lindner said Chief Criminal Deputy Evan Tingstad and Cmdr. Chris Ellis served a search warrant at a North Whidbey home that had a marijuana grow operation. While they were there, the resident called home and the detectives answered it. The detectives somehow convinced the suspects that they were old high school buddies visiting and got him to tell them where the keys to his car were so they could search it.After that, Lindner said they basically conned him into coming home and arrested him.Then there are the cases that are just plain weird. And for some reason, Lindner said the weirdest stuff seems to happen on the south end of the island.A good example is a man who robbed a Clinton convenience store – at arrowpoint. Lindner said the robber pointed a bow and arrow at the clerk and got away with the cash.He was never caught.”

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