I was robbed

No amount of Netflix bingeing could prepare me for my first authentic crime scene

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Kate Snyder is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

I’ve always considered detective work to be a hobby of mine, albeit one relegated to the boundaries of my TV screen and practiced only from the comfort of my couch. From the age that I could wield a remote, Saturday afternoons hosted hours of diligent study as I watched episode upon episode of “Monk,” “Bones,” “Psych” and “Sherlock,” all of which were integral to my formation into a self-perceived investigative genius.

I recognized no disadvantage posed by my lack of real-world experience in sleuthing. With my socked-feet propped up on the coffee table, I was exposed to a vast swath of seemingly unsolvable crimes — a dead body in a wine barrel, a mummified corpse in a corn maze, a mall Santa murdered by two traitorous elves. As I finished each show’s diverse catalog of tragic scenarios, I felt confident in my ability to hang with the likes of Holmes, assured that I could predict the identity and motive of each perpetrator from the moment they appeared on-screen.

I began to recognize patterns of behavior that constituted the hallmarks of guilt in these shows’ universes. If the widow is constantly biting her nails throughout the initial interview, she’s the murderer. If the little white dog won’t stop barking at one bed of tulips in the backyard, that’s where she hid the gun. “Oh, she totally did it,” I’d say, my voice dripping with confidence and my straw slurping loudly as I finished the last sip of my Nesquik.

With years of practice under my imaginary belt — fitted, of course, with an imaginary holster — I would have never imagined the complete lack of competence that I would show as the victim of a real-life crime. 

A few days before Christmas, I absentmindedly refreshed my email’s inbox over breakfast, the steam of my dad’s too-strong coffee leaving a film over my face. I expected close to nothing, maybe the errant pre-Christmas promo-code or automated update on my bank account. What I got, though, was a message from my rental company. The subject read “Open Window.”

My heart sank as I scanned frantically over the message’s copy and realized the tragic truth. The first-floor window, the one that led easily into my kitchen, had been found open that morning. “Was this intentional?” they wondered. Nope, actually, we’d hoped it would stay closed.

As my family home is just a short drive from my 14th Street apartment, I trudged to the house to assess the damage, dragging my mom with me for emotional support. At first glance, the interior appeared virtually undisturbed — the TV remained on its stand and the Bluetooth speaker still rested conspicuously on the coffee table. My eyes welled up with tears when I thought they’d stolen my huge lobster earring from the drawer of my bedside table, but for some reason they’d left that, too.

The only real evidence of intrusion was a few opened drawers in the bedrooms and the empty paper-clip box that had once held my stash of babysitting money. “All things considered,” my mom insisted as I sat on my bed, sniveling, “this is really a fine outcome.”

I knew she was right — rationally speaking, they hadn’t stolen anything invaluable and it wouldn’t take long to earn back the cash, but still I was left with a pit in my stomach. I couldn’t shake the idea that someone, a stranger, had rifled through my desk, had seen my cousin’s save-the-date sitting on my bedside table — had tampered with my lobster earring. The intrusion felt personal and invasive, and I couldn’t stand to look at all the open drawers as they remained, gaping and vulnerable — I slammed them all shut.

From there I rushed around the house to tidy up any evidence of forced entry — I replaced the pillows that had been shuffled off the window ledge when the robber had entered, and I closed and locked my bedroom door. The house was cleaner than I’d found it when I called the police to file a report.

When the detective arrived, I relayed the gist of what we’d found, and what we’d lost. As we prepared to enter the house so that he could assess the damage, he reminded me of basic crime scene etiquette.

“It’s essential that you don’t touch anything,” he said, his voice steeped in gravity. “If you compromise the scene, there’s not much I can do.” I blanched.

I gave him the tour, pointing out the window that had been found open and showing him the desk drawer that had held my cash. “This is not what we’d expect to see after a break-in,” he said. “There’s almost no indication that anyone was here. If he’d come in through this window, I’d expect these pillows to be disturbed.”

“Oh, they were,” I replied sheepishly, “I cleaned them up. I shut the drawers, too.”

I could see the officer grow visibly weary with my confession. “Well, there’s not much I can do then, your prints are all over the scene. Might even look like an inside job,” he added, chuckling.

The prints! How could I have been so stupid? Any amateur would have known not to compromise the crime scene, and through my compulsive cleaning I’d incriminated myself. Tampering with the evidence was a classic trope of criminality — if a character on “Bones” had executed my frantic drawer-shutting, I would have scoffed immediately. “Get the handcuffs ready, Booth,” I’d say, rolling my eyes.

Immersed in my own real-life crime, all my years of simulated training went out the open window. I hadn’t learned to expect the feeling of vulnerability and stupidity that would come with victimhood. On a visceral level, I’d wanted to dispel that shame at any cost — to regain the sense of security that I’d known before.

There’s been no follow-up to my case — no possible suspects, no break-throughs — but of course I don’t expect any. My brief foray with real-life detective work dashed any dreams of a life of crime-solving or of getting back my spending money. My talents for investigation are, it turns out, very niche — only to be practiced in my pajama pants with my back firmly nestled in the corner of the couch.

If a woman dies on the way home from winning a pie contest though, I know who did it — I saw that episode. It was the husband. It’s always the husband.

Kate Snyder is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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