Radio transmission – Theft from jewelry store. Items taken – two diamond rings with value exceeding $10,000.
Subsequent Traffic Stop
Weather – Sunny. 84 degrees.
Probable Cause for stop – Vehicle matched description provided by jewelry store owner. Plates – out of state. Unknown numbers/lettering.
Weapon(s) involved – Taurus .380 recovered from beneath driver’s seat. Fully loaded with spare magazine in small cloth bag. No weapons used in connection with the crime.
My partner and I were pros at playing good cop/bad cop. In fact, we were the go-to guys for eliciting confessions. But these two, the man and woman suspected of taking two expensive diamond rings from a local jewelry store, were also pros. In their line of work—stealing and con games—they were some of the best in the business and their racket was an old one. They’d pretend to shop for engagement rings. She tried on several, asking to see first one then another and then back to this one and then the other and so on and so on until the clerk has an assortment of sparkly bling scattered about the glass countertop like a spattering of snowflakes on a frozen lake surface, much like the winter wonderland appearance of our backyard this morning.
Their goal, of course, was to confuse the clerk so that they could pocket a few gems and then make their getaway after not seeing the “perfect” ring, bracelet, or necklace. It worked. When the frustrated clerk/owner returned the collection of items to their respective spots in the cases, she noticed two valuable rings were missing. So were the two “customers.”
The responding uniformed officers asked for a description of the pair of thieves, but the owner simply couldn’t offer any solid details. They’d so thoroughly confused her that all she could remember was that one was male and the other was female. She was able to recall their race and that both wore nice clothing … she thought.
However, she wasn’t sure if it was the man wore a blue shirt or if it was the woman whose top was blue. She was confident the man had on khaki pants, though. No doubt about that detail. She was also certain about the description of the getaway car—it was a dark colored vehicle with out of state plates. Not sure which state, just not the familiar blue lettering on white background of Virginia plates.
For the record, the actual color of the man’s shirt was green; the woman had selected a red and white striped top as her shirt du jour. Both were wearing blue jeans at the time of the traffic stop, a stop that took place within 30 minutes of the theft. There was no other clothing inside their car. The owner’s descriptions were not even close and, unfortunately, the store’s surveillance cameras were switched off. “Oh, we don’t bother with that thing,” she later told me. “Far too much trouble.”
Surprisingly, the store owner was correct about the license plate.
Perfectly Legal Little White Lies
Questioning the two suspects was going nowhere. We had them in separate rooms and we alternated between the two, trying every trick in the book, including telling perfectly legal little white lies. You left fingerprints. The clerk ID’d you. Witnesses saw you. Yada, yada, yada. But we were spinning our wheels because they’d readily admitted to being in the store.
They simply weren’t talking.
They said they’d looked at and tried on rings. However, they didn’t like what they saw and left. But they didn’t take anything. It was their word against the store owner’s and we had no evidence. They’d allowed us to search both them and their car and we found nothing but the gun, which was illegal—he was a convicted felon and the gun was concealed.
We tried every legal card up our sleeves, but no dice. We had nothing.
Frazier v. Cupp is the case that permits police to tell little white lies during interrogations.
So, with the pair remaining as silent as Mr. Bean during one of his comedy sketches, I took a walk around the hallways, trying to think of some sort of angle to help garner a confession.
As I passed by the door to the dispatchers’ room one of them called out with a cheery “Good morning,” so I stepped inside. I noticed a small stack of new videos (VHS tapes at the time) beside her terminal. The top one was a collection of Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny’s image plastered on the front. He held a carrot in one hand and his rabbit lips were split into his typical buck-toothy grin. The video was a gift for her child’s birthday.
I had an idea and asked to borrow the tape for a few minutes.
After a quick stop in my office for a bit of artistic trickery, I returned to the interview room where the female suspect sat waiting. When I opened the door and stepped inside she smiled and asked if she could leave.
I took a seat in the chair across from her and returned her smile. Then I slid the tape across the tabletop. “We have a video,” I said. What I didn’t say was that I’d removed the Bugs label and replaced it with one I’d handwritten in my office before returning to the interview room. The new label simply read “Tape – June 6, 1994.” (June 6 was the current date, and Tape…well, it was a tape, right?).
“When I show this tape to a judge…well, you know what’s going to happen, right?” I said.
Tears quickly formed in the corners of her eyes. Then she looked down toward her feet and nodded. “I know,” she said. “Yeah, we did it. He took them, though. Not me. You saw that on the tape, right?”
Suddenly she wouldn’t shut up, telling me they’d dropped the rings out of the car window when they saw me pull out behind them. I sent a patrol officer to the approximate location where he found both rings. She also confessed to other thefts in other cities. The gun, too, was stolen. They’d broken into a home and found it while searching for valuables. The necklace she wore that day was stolen, as was the watch on her boyfriend’s wrist.
When I entered the room with her boyfriend/partner in crime, with the tape in hand, my first words to him were, “What’s up, Doc?”
An hour later we had signed confessions from both suspects.
And that’s how Bugs Bunny helped me solve the Case of the Missing Jewelry.