Through a convoluted set of circumstances I wouldn’t be employed for awhile although I had been a police officer in Chicago for about a year. My husband, Lenny, was burned out on being a cop for 18 years so we bought a bar/restaurant near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our business was on Route 2 and the nearest town was Spread Eagle, Wisconsin. The biggest ‘city’ nearby was Iron Mountain, Michigan with all of a single stop light and a ‘rush hour’ of maybe 5 cars.
Initially we had a friend as manager of the bar while we settled things in Chicago. While Lenny began the ‘quitting’ process at the CPD, we waited for the proper time to transfer the kids to the Florence County high school. Although we had not yet moved up to the house on the property, we had the ‘Grand Opening’ of Das Jaeger Haus (The Hunter’s House). Family and friends came up to help us on that weekend. Although the restaurant wouldn’t open until we moved up there, the bar was ready for business. I’d set up a marketing strategy with one of the two local radio stations where they’d feature our live country and western band on weekends. That would give us free publicity and they could still sell ads on the station.
Our Grand Opening was a smashing success! The place was packed, liquor was sold and everyone was having a good time. Of course, that meant that there were more than a few inebriated patrons but we weren’t concerned. There was such little traffic that it would be hard to find another vehicle to hit in the middle of the night. By the time we closed at 4 AM all of us were very happy and very tired. We headed back to the motel several miles away. We had taken over most of it over for our Chicago guests.
The next day was a Sunday, bright and sunny. We all gathered in one of the larger suites because there was a cooking area and a huge breakfast was prepared. Although many of the guests had to leave to return to Chicago that day, we didn’t have to open the Jaeger Haus until 4 PM. Someone turned on the radio because we were all interested in whether our Grand Opening was going to be mentioned on the radio.
Instead of the usual chatter about the local businesses (like ours), weather and the typical small town chatter there was an: “All Points Bulletin! A major crime has occurred near Spread Eagle, Wisconsin and the police need everyone’s help! Mr. and Mrs. Brown’s 1978 Ford Coupe was stolen from a parking lot on Route 2! It’s a green coupe with a Michigan license plate number of 12345! Notify the police immediately if you see the car! Do not
attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of the offenders! Simply call the police!!”
Lenny and I were stunned! We knew the Browns and they were very nice people. In fact, they had even come to our grand opening the night before. The Browns left Das Jaeger Haus around 12:30 AM and although they had been drinking they were in fine shape. The only problem they had was that their car had been blocked in by the crowd in our parking lot. For once, knowing a lot of people in a small town paid off. Between the Browns and Lenny they figured out whose cars were causing the problem. The three of them went into the bar and asked the people to move their cars because the Browns had to get home to take the babysitter home.
At least that meant that their car hadn’t been stolen from our parking lot which was also on Route 2. Lenny said that Mrs. Brown had mentioned she needed some milk on her way home and that they were going to stop at an all night gas station to get
some. Maybe that was the parking lot that their car was taken from.
Of course, our group was just waking up and everyone was from Chicago. Between the eggs, bacon and coffee Lenny and I began telling the tales of the reports of stolen cars that Chicago cops routinely filled out on Sunday mornings. 99.99% of those reports were, of course, bogus. Not that the people missing their cars were lying, just that their cars were usually a block away from where they had been drinking. Eventually the car and the owner would be reunited and the report cancelled.
But obviously that is not what had happened this sunny Sunday morning. The radio played a very short commercial and then the Chief of Police in the town of Florence held a press conference to explain the terrible situation. There were two radio reporters there and three news print journalists at the press conference. Many questions were asked and the Police Chief said that he had already made contact with the Michigan State Police to make sure that the culprit or culprits were caught and punished.
An interview with the Browns was a truly sad one. Mrs. Brown was sobbing as she said that she had gotten out of the car with her husband to get the milk. After buying the milk at the gas station, they walked out to their car and it was missing! Someone had stolen it.
“What time did you stop to get the milk?” the reporter asked.
It took a second before Mr. Brown spoke up, “It was around 4:30 in the morning, wasn’t it, honey?”
Lenny and I looked at each other. They had left our bar at 12:30 and four hours later they were buying milk? What had
they been doing during those four hours? Hmmm!
Then another break into the interview! There was information on the car!
“All points bulletin!! A green Ford coupe was seen heading toward Green Bay about 20 miles away and the police were about to pull it over! As soon as more information is known we will share it with you, our listeners.”
Lenny turned the radio dial to the only other radio station anyone could get in the area because the hills and trees caused a lot of interference. Maybe they had something else on. By now Lenny and I were telling the family and friends that we bet that this was the same kind of thing that happened in Chicago. The car probably wasn't stolen, it was missing. The other station had the same story blaring.
“The Michigan Police want all citizens to be alert for the 1978 green Ford coupe – WAIT!! There’s a sighting of the car in Iron Mountain! The police have stopped it and our reporter will be there in a moment to interview the officers!”
Back to the other station:
“…and now we can report that the car heading to Green Bay was owned by the Martins. Upstanding citizens who are retired and on their way to a Packers’ game! Remember! People, keep your eyes open! We must not let our area become a haven for car thieves and other riff-raff!! Now for a commercial!”
The commercial came on. At that point all of us decided to turn off the radio for a couple of reasons. First, if the car had actually been stolen it was a sad day that such small towns would now have to actually face crime that big cities face. The residents would actually have to start removing their car keys from their ignitions. Secondly, if the car had not been stolen where was it? It isn’t as if there was a block around which the Browns could have lost their car. Between all the APBs and interviews and everything else, the story seemed to be going in circles.
We helped our friends and family who were going back to Chicago to pack and load their cars. We promised to tell everyone as soon as we knew what had happened to the Brown’s car. We took the few remaining family members to a late lunch at a place in Iron Mountain. As we drove down the main street we had to circumvent the area where the police were being interviewed by the local reporters. We simply shook our heads. What was this world coming to? Curious we turned the radio back on. It was now around 2 PM and we wanted to know what happened before the band started to play that evening. We knew that the only thing our customers would want to talk about was the missing/stolen car.
“The Wisconsin State Police have now been able to ensure that all avenues are covered! They have brought in major crime detectives and are trying to trace where Mr. and Mrs. Brown had been all evening!! Remember folks! We need all your help! If you see a 1978 green coupe with a Michigan license plate number of 12345 notify the police immediately! Do not attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of the offenders! Simply call the police!!”
By then Lenny and I believed the car had to be somewhere near the last place where the Browns had been. But where? There weren’t any ‘blocks’ as city people think of them. All the places where the Brown had been were directly off Route 2.
“We have a sighting of the car…yes! It is the license plate 12345! The police said that someone saw it... Where? Oh, in the national forest about ½ mile from where it was stolen! What? Listeners!! The thieves were apparently so drunk that they couldn’t drive the car around a simple curve. It appears that the thieves drove in a straight line, continued off the road and left the car hidden by some trees! What? The car’s doors were open and the key in the ignition! Oh, and the engine had been running and now the car is out of gas! We all are wondering who these horrible people were who stole the Brown’s car and left it in the middle of the woods! Well, at least the Browns will be getting their car back even if they have to have it towed out of the forest. We’ll bring you more details as we get them! Now back to our regular programming!”
A week later we mailed copies of the local newspaper where a tiny notice on the third page explained the entire crime to all our curious friends and relatives in Chicago.
Mr. and Mrs. Brown had driven to another bar about a mile from ours. They had a few more drinks. Then they went to another bar closer to their home and had many more drinks. About a block from that spot was the all night gas station. However, when the Browns got to the gas station they were already missing their car – although they didn’t realize it until after they bought the milk. That’s when they called the police.
The detectives finally figured out that when the Browns went into the last bar they had not only left the keys in the ignition and running, they had left the car in gear. The 1978 green Ford coupe had driven itself out of the parking lot, down a rather steep gully at roadside and into the forest where the heavy grass had slowed it to a stop. It simply sat there until it ran out of
gas. The Browns never noticed that the car was missing because the gas station was so close and they had walked there.
This is a true story that no Chicago police officer could tell with a straight face!