Friday, October 01, 2010

1 OCT 10: The Case of the "Scarlett" Scoundrel

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We're on vacation, so the blogging pace has slowed for a few days. Today we offer Classic Blog from 24 Aug 07 -- and we note the story you are about to read is true, but a few names have been changed, to protect possible embarrassment.)

Mrs. Chambers was in the lobby of police headquarters, and she was not a happy woman. But then again, how many people do you see stopping by police stations with "thank-you" platters of cookies and doughnuts?

Mrs. Chambers was at police headquarters to complain about a theft she said could total $5,000. Sad to say, for many drug squads these days this amount almost qualifies as a misdemeanor.

Mrs. Chambers didn't think the police were doing enough to solve a break-in at her home. She claimed a couple of weeks ago, someone took a portrait of the late actress Vivien Leigh - perhaps a portrait from her role in "Gone With the Wind." Mrs. Chambers seemed to think detectives were muttering Clark Gable's famous quote from that movie under their breaths....

Mrs. Chambers explained to an officer who met her in the lobby that she bought the portrait of Vivien Leigh at a yard sale two years ago for 80 dollars. She figures it's appreciated to the point where it could be worth $5,000 today. I hope no one's suggested that Mrs. Chambers invest in web site names.

But here's the twist: Mrs. Chambers explained her portrait of Vivien Leigh was not exactly stolen - it was replaced. A nearly-identical portrait was put in her house by the thief. So as they might say in Auburn, the criminal attempted to have a Leigh Scot-Free.

Mrs. Chambers says she knows the portrait currently in her house is a replacement, because she put some sort of identifying code on the portrait she bought. It has her "signature," she told the officer. Perhaps this is one time when the little yellow tag does NOT mean a big savings....

Police went to Mrs. Chambers's home about two weeks ago, when she reported the portrait swap. But she complained to the officer in the lobby they "seemed more interested in the TV set and the portrait of me on the wall, than in what I had to say." Maybe the detectives were checking to see if her portrait was switched, too.

Apparently unsatisfied with how the investigation was going, Mrs. Chambers said she called police to her home again last Sunday. That time, she claimed she had a "rattler in my fish bowl" - as in a rattlesnake. Did the portrait swappers come back to leave something threatening? Or are Mrs. Chambers's fish that valuable, too?

Mrs. Chambers admitted the main reason for the second call to police was NOT about rattlesnakes. She wanted to report some stolen jewelry as well. It turns out a female officer responded to that second call - so lost jewels should have been sufficient to get her attention.

The officer in the lobby told Mrs. Chambers he had checked the police department's files - and could NOT find a report on her original complaint. There was no paperwork about portraits of Vivien Leigh. But he stopped short of speculating they might be "Gone With the Wind."

We'd love to tell you the rest of this true story - but at that point we had to move on, so (groan) we didn't hear it. But based on the evidence we've presented, what conclusions would you draw from it? First of all, I'd be careful if someone sells portraits of Vivien Leigh at area flea markets - especially if the seller insists on a thousand-dollar starting bid.

(Of course, you also should be on the lookout for someone selling Vivien Leigh portraits on eBay. If the picture is on a piece of toast, be especially suspicious.)

I'm tempted to draw a second conclusion, from how the police responded to Mrs. Chambers's first complaint -- that they decided she's crazy. After all, who goes scouting around people's homes for portraits of dead movie stars? And then SWAPS them, instead of stealing them? I thought "Planet Hollywood" restaurants worked a bit differently from this....

Mrs. Chambers certainly didn't help her cause by calling in an update on a crime, under cover of a rattlesnake. She may not have realized "Fear Factor" isn't on TV anymore.

Police departments sometimes have to deal with callers who, to put it politely, are delusional. It's like 911 operators taking calls from people with problems which are really not emergencies. You want to "believe the victim" - but if they call over and over again, they start building rap sheets as long as some hardened criminals.

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