Suspected Crime Might Have a Winged Witness

Is this your bird? If so, call Montgomery police. This photo was on a digital camera found after a robbery.
Is this your bird? If so, call Montgomery police. This photo was on a digital camera found after a robbery. (Courtesy Of Montgomery County Police)

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By John Kelly
Thursday, July 5, 2007

Do you recognize this bird? It might have witnessed a crime.

The photo appearing with this column, and others, was on a digital camera that Montgomery County police recovered after a burglary in the 100 block of Hilltop Road in Silver Spring.

On the afternoon of May 3, a woman saw a suspicious-looking man at a house near hers. She called the homeowner, who returned from work to confront the intruder, who ran off, dropping some of his ill-gotten loot.

With the help of a Takoma Park K-9 unit, Montgomery police tracked down a suspect. Officers arrested Maximillian R. Farrow, 30, of no fixed address. Police recovered other items from Farrow in addition to the camera: an engagement ring, a fancy lighter, another person's passport.

Some of the stuff, although not the camera, was from the house that had just been robbed. Police would like to return the other belongings to their owners, so they sent me photos from the camera, including two shots of the bird, apparently a cockatiel. (They originally called it a parakeet, a mistake I'm sure would irritate fans of both birds.) It's not clear where the bird is from.

There were also shots of people on the camera. "If we could just find out who [they are], maybe we can close another burglary," Montgomery police Detective Dimitry Ruvin said.

So, who are these people? Well, because The Washington Post generally doesn't print photos of possible crime victims without their consent, I'll have to describe them. In one photo, there's a brown-haired Caucasian woman standing in a kitchen next to a gas range. She's wearing a yellow fitted T-shirt and gray slacks. Her right hand is clutching what looks like mail. The kitchen cabinets are white, and to her left is a cluttered island topped in black. There's a ceiling fan that has a fluted, floral-style light.

Another photo shows a Caucasian man in a yellow short-sleeve shirt. He has reddish-brown hair and wears a wedding ring and a gold tank watch. At his elbow is an adding machine -- or a phone? The floor behind him is a checkerboard of black and white tile.

The shots must have been taken from different angles in the same room -- the blue and white gingham window treatment fabric looks the same in both. Perhaps the man and woman handed the camera back and forth: "Okay, now take one of me."

I'm intrigued by these snapshots, prosaic yet humdrum domestic images made public by circumstance. They belong to a weird category of unintentional art I call Orphaned Photographs.

These are the old photos you see at thrift shops being sold for their frames: pictures of stiff-collared, mustachioed men from the 1890s; babies in flowing christening gowns from the 1930s; the entire population of a ballroom, all formally dressed, every head turned toward the camera, a caption written in white at the bottom: "Eastern Regional Sales Force, Annual Meeting, March 12, 1952."

Then there are the souvenir photos taken at the base of log flume rides but declined by their screaming subjects, and the train station photo-booth strips left by passengers rushing to catch the 5:25 to Philadelphia. Fallen from the walls of barbershops are the curling prints of long-dead men, their out-of-fashion crew cuts and pompadours fading in the sunlight.

And now, in bits and bytes on memory cards, are the digital portraits of possible crime victims. Is that your bird? Is that your kitchen? If you think so, call Montgomery police at 301-565-5835.

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