By on April 22, 2013

Author’s note- In order to protect the privacy of the victims, some names and details have been omitted or changed.

Part One of this story can be found here.

In police work it’s never a question of what you know. The only thing that matters is what you can prove. The Nurse hadn’t straight up stolen the car. A couple of days after he’d refused to put her in for the theft of his wallet, the Old Man had let the Nurse back into his life. At some point, he’d willingly given her the keys and she’d hung around until just before the son arrived to pick up his father before clearing out with the Camaro and God only knew what else.. That meant that the most Chris could charge was a misdemeanor, Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle, normally used to deal with kids who don’t bring back their parents’ cars before curfew instead of hitting them with a felony.

Chris worked it anyway. He tracked down the Nurse’s mother and kept at her until she gave her daughter’s location up: Baltimore. I’ve watched every episode of  The Wire three times. The Camaro had probably already been traded for a handful of yellowtops and pressed into service as the getaway vehicle of choice for drive- by shootings.

Chris got the Nurse’s cellphone number and the address where she was supposedly staying. He called her a dozen times a day, threatening her with a Grand Jury indictment and prison time. He figured out what district she was living in, called the BPD shift commander in charge, and invoked the brotherhood of the Thin Blue Line to get a couple of uniforms sent to give her a little face to face encouragement. The Camaro wasn’t at the house when they visited, but BPD promised to find a reason to hook it if they caught it on the street. That would have gotten it out of the Nurse’s clutches, but it would have created new problems for the owner in that the car would be collecting impound and storage fees on the other side of the country for as long as it took for him to arrange to get it back.

The best solution, the only solution, was to get the Nurse to bring the car back herself. For over a week Chris made the Nurse the center of his universe whenever his other cases gave him time. He coaxed, threatened, flattered, and raged at her and everyone he could find in her immediate orbit. It was a majestic performance in the dark art of the projection of perceived police authority instead of actual police authority. The truth was that the case would be a weak prosecution at best. Even if Chris managed to slide a warrant for Unauthorized Use past an inattentive judge, no Assistant County Attorney was going to sign off on extraditing the Nurse from three states away for a misdemeanor, the city budget being what it is.

In the end it worked. A couple of days after BPD paid the Nurse a visit, she called Chris. The Camaro was back in Lexington, left unlocked on a quiet street with the keys in the console. She was back in Baltimore. Chris and I headed out of the office to retrieve it before somebody else stole it. The exterior was filthy, but undamaged. The latch for the rear hatch was broken, making it impossible to secure.

The interior was trashed. Candy wrappers, empty cigarette packs, and Big Gulp cups littered the floorboards. It reeked of eau de criminale, a olfactory combination of stale sweat, spilled beer, greasy food, desperation, and various “flavors” of smoke that any beat cop with more than ten minutes in uniform would instantly recognize. Mostly smoke in this case.  The ashtray was stuffed full of both cigarette butts and “roaches.” I brushed a small pile of stems and seeds into the street before settling down behind the wheel, wishing I’d thought to grab a pair of latex gloves from the trunk of Chris’s Crown Vic.

It fired up the first time, although the fuel gauge needle was way past the “E” and the warning light glowed menacingly. Chris needed fuel for his Crown Vic as well, so I followed him gingerly to the closest gas station that accepted our fleet credit card. While I filled the Crown Vic, Chris went inside to pay for $5 worth of low grade for the Camaro, knowing that he wouldn’t bother to submit a request for reimbursement.

We stashed the Camaro in the municipal garage next to headquarters, thinking that the son would make plans to retrieve it by the end of the week. He didn’t and one morning Chris stopped me as I walked into the office. He pulled me into the breakroom for a secure conversation.

“He doesn’t want to come back to Lexington. The Old Man’s taking a turn for the worst. He’ll never drive it again and the son doesn’t want it. He’s asking me if he can just give it to us.”

“Us as in the department?”

“No, us as in you or me. I told him we couldn’t do that and he said to make him an offer if we need to feel better about it. I think you could offer him a hundred bucks for it and he’d say okay. I don’t want it, but I said I’d ask you.”

Ethical temptations present themselves from time to time in police work. And they wouldn’t be called temptations if they weren’t, in fact, tempting. If I was going to make an offer, it would have to be fair. I checked the NADA website. The average retail price was north of four grand. I couldn’t afford “fair” and I wasn’t going to do it for “not fair.” Besides, between the Camaro I already owned, my pickup, my wife’s minivan, and the city’s Crown Vic, my house already looked like a used car lot. Bringing home an orphan Camaro that smelled of dirtbag wouldn’t do my property values or my marriage any favors.

Chris told the son that he’d help him dispose of the car legitimately. The son struck a deal with a local used car superstore. I strolled the lot while Chris found the manager that the son had been working and turned over the keys. The Camaro was at least fifteen years older than the next oldest car on the lot. I figured it would be headed for auction a couple of hours after we left the lot, which we did without looking back.

So what’s the moral of this story? The Nurse went unpunished. Karma will probably catch her, but neither Chris or I will get the satisfaction of hearing the bracelets ratchet shut around her wrists. The Old Man would be dead before the end of the year. At least he and his son reconciled before he died.

What matters is the job and the way you work it, even when it doesn’t matter. Every detective works the cases that matter as hard as he can with the facts and resources he has at the time. It’s how you do your job when the case doesn’t matter, when the bosses aren’t watching, and when you know that your efforts are most likely in vain that ultimately defines what kind of a cop you really are. And in this case a detective pulled every trick he knew to get back a lonely old man’s car, even though the Old Man would never know. In the end, that’s enough.

It has to be.

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30 Comments on “The Old Man and the Camaro: Part 2...”

  • avatar

    Wonderful story, David. Great to see another soul from Central KY. (Just kinda hope you don’t pull me over on New Circle someday.)

  • avatar

    I remember my kid begging me to tell him another story at bedtime. That’s how I feel right now.

    You do a great job. Both in uniform and in story telling.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Great story and well written. Thank you and Chris for going the extra mile when no one else would.

  • avatar

    I sure wish all my email notifications of new stories hadn’t stopped randomly! Arg. Haven’t gotten a new story notification since April 3.

  • avatar

    The story of police and charity work in a nutshell:

    People with a genuine desire to help work hard and twist themselves into knots to try and do the right thing by people…only to find out that in the end it makes almost no difference.

    All you get in the end is the knowledge that *you* did the right thing. The world won’t care and certainly won’t reward you. You have to do it because it’s who you are and be satisfied with that knowledge even though almost nobody else on earth will ever give a damn.

    As for Karma, that bitch is overrated. Ten bucks says that the thieving “nurse” won a lotto payout or a settlement against somebody that would have made a nice nest egg for most…but she blew it all and yet will live to screw someone over another day. Predators almost never get what they truly deserve. Especially the ones that use subtler means than a knife or a gun.

  • avatar

    Excellent story.

  • avatar

    Great story. Nice to hear from good people doing what they can in bad situations.

  • avatar

    Enjoyed readiig it, thanks.

  • avatar

    Nice story. However, I think a detective going out of his way like that is a rather rare exception. I had to deal with my local detectives when my apartment got robbed and while I wouldn’t say they did absolutely nothing, they sure as heck didn’t go out of their way. They were very hard to reach and completely disappeared after a few phone calls and emails. I think that approach is far more typical than what you’re describing here.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah my wallet got stolen out of my house by some kid who was a friend of my girlfriend’s son. I reported it promptly, and used my online banking to show where my credit card was used. Turns out the kid bought Spice (illegal in Virginia now) from some gas station who kept a hidden stash and sold only to people the owners knew personally.

      So they had it all handed to them on a platter: larceny, the name of the perp who stole the wallet, use of a stolen credit card to buy illegal drugs, a convenience store that was selling illegal drugs to minors.

      What did the police, both in my city and the city where the card was used, do about it all? Not a god damn thing. They didn’t give a shit. After a while I just stopped making phone calls. But just let me go drive 15 MPH over the speed limit…. Now THAT’S a crime most cops seem to care about.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, unfortunately that’s the way it is today. Some guy was sending me “collection” letters from some liquor store I never went to saying that I cashed some checks there and they bounced. The address on the envelope was close by so I decided I would go there in person to straighten this out. The business at the address was some sort of commercial printer. The owner said his business has been there for more than ten years and he doesn’t know the guy sending the letters. So this guy was obviously trying to defraud people. I went to the police station to give them all the information I could to hopefully keep this guy from taking some money from some elderly people. The cops had no interest and just told me to check my credit report and make sure this guy wasn’t doing anything. They never even took my name.

      • 0 avatar

        IF the police in your town are limiting their questionable behavior to not accepting complaints, that’s the least of your troubles. It could be worse, a lot worse. I personally know of cops who stole guns from an elderly widow. I know a cop who stole a car that had been stored behind a gas station. I know cops who intervened when their friends or family got drunk/high and caused an auto accident. The DUI drivers were driven away in police vehicles, while the innocent were issued summonses. It goes on and on. This story doesn’t even scratch the surface. www (dot) You are a fool if you trust the police

      • 0 avatar

        kvndoom- I had the same thing happen. I was putting in a satellite dish in my backyard, and I took my wallet out of my pocket so I could lie down comfortably while working on the mount. I had to go to the bathroom and left my wallet outside. I was gone like 2 minutes. About a month later, I got a credit card bill, and someone, I didn’t know who it was, yet, had done on a spree of over $5500 worth of stuff, bought all over the Toledo area. I called the bank and told them someone had taken the card, etc. A few days later, another bill came for another card, this one was for a little less, $5300. I called that bank, and gave them the info on the other card, so they could open a joint investigation. A few phone calls on our end to the stores listed on the bills proved interesting. One of the people helping me with the dish was a guy 5’4″ with size 8EEEE shoes, the other guy was 6’10” or 11″, and wore size 17 shoes. There were two pairs of size 17 shoes bought at a shoe place in Michigan, and the sales girl who sold them described the guy perfectly. We had proof of who did it, but the Mastercard guy in charge of the “joint investigation” insisted that we had no proof it was him at all. The Visa rep was helpless as she agreed we had more than reasonable proof to make a case against him, but the Mastercard bozo was in charge and he would have to actually file charges, and he wouldn’t, so he got away with it, and I had to pay $50 per card, since I didn’t call them right away when they were stolen.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, I’ve heard of stories like this with SFPD too.

        For example, two people, one male, one female, steal a bike from someone’s garage in broad daylight. Owner chases after them and catches the female one himself. He tells the cops that she and her companion stole two bikes, and the cops tell him to stop bugging them, turn around, and take his one bike home. No report, just a threat to arrest him if he kept bothering them.

        Another store was where someone figured out who stole something unique from their house because they found it on Craigslist and actually contacted the buyer. Cops do nothing with this information.

  • avatar

    Great story David. I’m a firm believer in Karma, so don’t worry, that nurse won’t get away with what she does. More importantly, you and Chris will be rewarded for your integrity and honesty.

    Thank you.

  • avatar

    Interesting story, but around here the cops are more likely to engage in the exploitation of the elderly than prevent it.

    A few years ago, an elderly woman who lived in a nearby town called for an ambulance when she fell down the stairs and couldn’t get up. The police responded along with EMS and the old lady was transported to the local hospital. One of the police officers stayed behind to “secure” the premisses.

    The old lady was a widow. Her late husband was in the construction biz and they were fairly well to do. Her late husband purchased a new 1967 Cadillac Coupe De Ville. There were other cars after the De Ville, but the Caddy was his favorite, and it was babied and always garage kept. When the husband passed, the old lady hung on to the De Ville, taking out once or twice a month. Well, the policeman who stayed behind to “secured” the premises also managed to secure the title to that Caddy.

    A few days after the old lady was admitted to the hospital, the policeman showed up and told grandma that she needed to sign some “police papers”. He then proceeded to slip the Caddy title under her nose, and granny signed.

    After a few weeks in a the hospital, the old lady passed away. Her children all lived out of state and they returned for the funeral and to dispose of their mother’s worldly possessions. Immediately they noticed the Cadillac was missing. At first the siblings suspected each other, until a neighbor of their late mom told them that “some man” had driven the Caddy away a few days after their mother had died.

    The kids inquired about the car at the DMV but were told nothing. Then they explained what happened to the lawyer who was handling the probate. The lawyer discovered that car had been “sold” to a city policeman a few days before the old lady passed.

    The lawyer contacted the PD, but all he got was stone walled. Then he contacted the county prosecutor who told him, “There is no evidence of a crime, sorry.” The cop was asked to return the car, but he demanded his money back….of course he claimed that he paid the old lady in cash, so no cancelled check. Finally the lawyer filed a civil complaint. He argued the the old lady was suffering from dementia, and offered medical records as proof. Since she was mentally incapacitated, she was incapable of entering into any contracts. The judge agreed and ordered the Cadillac returned to the family. The cop walked out of the court cursing at the old lady’s kids. There was no disciplinary action taken against the cop. He put in the remainder of his time and retired with a fat pension. I’m gonna guess that it was probably not the first time he scammed a senile old person.

    At this point I expect the blog holster-sniffers to reply with, “One bad apple!” Sorry, but this is not the only cop I know of who has stolen for the elderly or the dead.

    For those of you who have elderly parents living alone, keep the above story in mind. It’s not just the “low-life” types you need to worry about.

    • 0 avatar

      So the moral of both stories is: take care of your parents so that they aren’t taken advantage of in their old age. I know it can be a real PITA but they probably deserve it. I know my parents do.

  • avatar

    Great story, well-told.

    I think there are a lot of cops around who would not do this. I also think there are a lot of cops around who would, and do.

    I agree that this is why you do the right thing…because you know you did the right thing.

  • avatar

    I can’t imagine that most police departments place that high a priority on investigating auto theft, unless it’s something especially rare and valuable, like a vintage Ferrari, that belongs to someone with clout.

    But at that point, it’s probably considered more than just auto theft.

    Are convicted auto thieves forced to make any restitution?

    I know it’d be too much to expect a court to hit them with, “you are sentenced to find an exact replacement of the car you stole, buy it, and turn it over to your victims,” but do they have to pay back anything?

  • avatar

    Anyone else just look up “Roaches” on Urban Dictionary?

  • avatar

    That is a fantastic story. Great writing.

    And I’m sorry to say it hit a bit too close to home. Scumbags are everywhere

  • avatar

    I liked this story a lot. Thanks for sharing. One of my good friends is a cop in one of our more “criminally active” communities, and I always enjoy his stories.

    I loved the term “eau de criminale.” It’s just one of those universal things. I could immediately smell it, even before I read your description of it.

  • avatar

    A good story, well-written, David. I have to agree with the sentiment that there are police officers who don’t care and those who do — just like any other profession. I’ve been there and have seen both kinds. Keep up the great articles!

  • avatar

    I saw a statistic a few years ago on the number of successful elder abuse prosecutions in the entire state of Kentucky. It was something appallingly low, like a few dozen for the entire state over the period of a year. On the other hand, many times, the person you would want to testify is senile, which may explain part of that statistic.

  • avatar

    “It’s how you do your job when the case doesn’t matter, when the bosses aren’t watching, and when you know that your efforts are most likely in vain…”

    Good story.

    Although I would say that among the cases that don’t matter, &c — the ones that involve widows, orphans and otherwise defenseless people — that’s taking a stand for at least a small measure of justice as well as simple human decency.

  • avatar

    The test of character is how one behaves when nobody is looking. Mr. Hester scored 100% on this one.

  • avatar

    Could your department have accepted the Camaro as a gift from the son, then used it as a “D.A.R.E.” vehicle, or something of the sort? Or doees that cross any ethical boundaries?

    Keep up the good work, sir! You’re clearly one of the good ones!

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