Where’s the merchandise he stole?

It was a rather common police call: ‘shoplifter being held in store office by security'.  I went to the liquor store and the manager greeted us at the entrance.  It was a cold and snowy holiday season and both of us wanted to get into the warmth of the store.  I knew Clark, the manager, from previous shoplifting arrests and reports I’d made for the store.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” were the first words out of the Clark’s mouth.

“Why?  What happened?” I asked.  “You do have a shoplifter in custody, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, but…” Clark shrugged and led me to the back room which was up a flight of stairs and in a position so almost the entire store was visible from that height.  What wasn’t visible by direct line from the office, the management used convex mirrors to try to watch the individual aisles.  The result was a bit haphazard.

I already knew that this was a store whose idea of saving money was to rely on the visual acuity of the store personnel over the modern technology of cameras.  That was understandable.  The manager’s word and the inventoried items that I’d save in the police evidence room were the only real proof that would be needed at trial.  So as we entered the small room at the top of the stairs I was a bit surprised at the sight of a very, very inebriated man.  In itself, that wasn’t unusual.  Most shoplifters at liquor stores either had an alcohol abuse problem themselves or just wanted to get free booze for a party they had planned.  And New Year’s Eve, ‘amateur night’, was just around the corner.

The man wasn’t dressed in the usual way that I would have expected.  The usual drunken shoplifter would be wearing old, often dirty and torn clothes in complete disarray.  This man had a nice looking jacket, buttoned up because it was the only way the security man could keep him from sliding to the floor.  His pants were pressed and his light blue golf shirt matched his rheumy eyes that couldn’t seem to focus on any of us.

However this particular individual was so smashed he couldn’t even sit in the chair properly.  Jim, the security man, was holding him up by his jacket collar but the man’s legs kept buckling under the chair and I thought there was a serious chance that the man would be hung by his own jacket collar.  So I asked if anyone had a long piece of cloth or a belt of some kind so the guy could be tied to the chair while waiting to get him help.  I’d wait to get the report was written and the property inventoried.  Eventually we found a rope and tied the man by his waist to the chair.  Then I called the dispatcher to send over the patrol wagon to take the guy to a hospital to sober him up – at least enough so he wouldn’t hurt himself.

I asked Clark if he knew the man or had ever seen him in the store at some prior time.  He hadn’t.  So the first thing I had to do was find out who this man was.  It was useless to ask him questions because he was past speaking any coherent language.  My next step was to search the offender for some kind of identification.  Amazingly, for the man’s severe state of intoxication he hadn’t urinated on himself which made my job a little less disgusting.  I found a single piece of paper in the guy’s back pocket which looked like the remnants of a Social Security card.  But it was illegible so my offender officially became a ‘John Doe’, at least until he was fingerprinted.  I had no doubt that he had been arrested before and that would probably be the only way we’d get an identification.   Really, it would be a toss-up whether he’d sober up first so he’d tell us who he was or whether the fingerprints would come back with his name and aliases while he was still in a drunken stupor.

At last the patrol wagon came and it took both of the wagon guys to carry John Doe down the stairs, out of the store and into the wagon.  I could finally concentrate on writing the report.

I had, of course, brought in the proper papers to fill out when I’d come into the store and now I took a seat next to the table where John had been slumped.  I quickly jotted down the information I already knew.  Then I pulled out the inventory slip so I could fill that out and put the shoplifted items into an evidence bag.  I looked at the empty table in front of me and looked up at Clark, leaning against the door jamb with a shit-eating grin.

“Where’s the stuff John lifted?” I asked.

“Inside of him.”

“Huh?  Inside of him?  How? What do ya mean?”  I was confused.

Usually shoplifters took the bottles and tried to hide them in their coats or pants.  Or, if they were pros, they’d have ‘booster’ skirts, pants or dresses that would effectively disguise anything they wanted hidden.  I had searched the guy and I’ve always been very thorough.  My life depended on how thorough a search I’d done.  John Doe was no ‘pro’ and he had nothing hidden on him.

“I mean,” Clark had lost his sense of humor, “that he drank his way through the store.  The guy never took a single bottle.  He only chose the best liquor and would open the bottles one by one.  He took a swig, or more, out of each one!  We weren’t really sure initially what he was doing because from up here, and even with all those mirrors, we couldn’t see him if he was down by the lower shelves.  By the time we realized what he was doing he’d been drinking a good half hour!”

“Clark!  What do you mean, ‘a good half hour’?!  That’s an eternity for a person wandering around the store!” I was astounded!

“Look,” now Clark was defensive, “It’s two days before New Year’s Eve; we have been so busy that we just assumed he was just
shopping.  He looks presentable.  You saw him.  He took a shopping cart.  He kept adding stuff to his cart so we thought he was just getting ready for a party."

“Wasn’t he drinking from those bottles that he put in the cart?” I wondered out loud.

“Nope!  Every single bottle was sealed tight.  That’s when we had to see what he had been drinking,” Clark said.

“Are you sure about his drinking from bottles?”

Just then a clerk from one of the front registers called on the loudspeaker for security.  Jim went to the front and returned with a
bottle of Southern Comfort, seal broken and some of the liquor missing.   It wasn’t missing a lot of liquor and if you were in a hurry a customer might not notice it.

Clark said, “See?  That’s what we’ve told our cashiers to look for: broken seals!”

I was a bit put out!  “Do you mean you haven’t even found the rest of the bottles he’d been drinking from?”

Clark was upset by now as he hurriedly tried to explain why there was so little merchandise for me to inventory. “We found two unsealed bottles.  One was in the guy’s hand when he sorta’ couldn’t get up from the floor when he went to his knees.  At first we just thought he had fallen but when we saw the bottle in his hand we started to look around and Jim found another bottle in another aisle.  I put the bottles here.”

Clark opened a small cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Gran Marnier and a bottle Fleischman’s Gin.  He put those two bottles next to the bottle of Southern Comfort.  “I put the original 2 bottles here after I managed to walk this guy up the stairs with Jim’s help.  I didn’t want him to try to grab the bottle from the table!  Officer, look at this store!  It’s very busy and all I have are a couple of stock boys in the back to replace the stuff we sell, 4 cashiers and Jim here!  Look at the long lines by the cashiers!  I called you as soon as I could but the more we waited, the drunker he got!  I told the stock boys and cashiers to turn in any bottle with a broken seal!  That’s why Jenny called us with the Southern Comfort.”

At that point I felt sorry for the wagon guys.  Just jostling around the back of the wagon on the way to the hospital would, no doubt, cause John Doe to lose something from the top or bottom of his body!  Those guys would have to hose out the wagon to get rid of the smell.

“Well, how am I going to be able to inventory the bottles he did drink from if you don’t have any idea of what he stole?  In fact, how am I going to write the damn report?” I wondered aloud. “ ‘Officer arrested John Doe who shoplifted some booze but the booze is inside of him.  Officer will not attempt to inventory John Doe’s urine or vomit.’ “

At that point we all broke out laughing.  Clark told me he’d get a proper inventory and bring the bottles to the police station later that evening after the store closed.  This report would simply list what I had in hand and, as I pointed out to Clark, he had to give me the retail prices of each item that he found with broken seals.  Meanwhile, I’d head into the station with the three bottles I had and when Clark showed up, even though I’d be off duty, another officer could write the supplementary report and inventory whatever Clark brought in.

Eventually John Doe was released from the hospital after he began to sober up and the wagon guys dropped him off at the station.  John Doe gave me a name that I put on the report.  He said he had no recollection of what he had done and was highly indignant that he was in handcuffs.  However, John Doe did have a stinky odor about him when I finalized the arrest report and, yes, the wagon guys had to hose out the paddy wagon.

For most shoplifting cases the offender pleads guilty and an officer is rarely expected to go to Court.  When I next saw Clark he told me that the man had drank out of 15 bottles of liquor with a total cost of over $350.  The offender apparently had enough money to hire one of the better lawyers in Chicago.  Although he pled guilty, John Doe managed to serve no jail time and not
even the Judge could figure out why the man wandered through a liquor store drinking from bottles when he probably could have bought all he wanted.

When his fingerprints went through the system it turned out that the name he had given me was an alias but his real name also showed up.  At this point his name is really not important because he will be for me, forever a John Doe who put his shoplifted
merchandise inside of himself!

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