"There's two kinds of people -- those who have been burglarized and those who haven't."
Spoken by a burglary victim who didn't want her name used. "It really does make you paranoid," she added. "I wasn't before."
If burglary is a way of life in America, so is being burglarized. Starting last Thursday and going on through tomorrow, close to $3 million worth of burglary loot recovered by police since Jan. 1, 1979, is being displayed at the D.C. Police Academy, 4665 Blue Plains Dr. SW, just off Martin Luther King Avenue near D.C. Village.
This is the take from Operation Greenthumb, in which police raided two places allegedly used to fence stolen goods. Surveillance had been going on for many months at Royal Carpet on Florida Avenue and ADE Inc. on K Street. The case was wrapped up April 28.
While police from all over the metropolitan area looked on, a parade of victims bearing their lists of stolen property wound its way around the gym between double rows of valuables in cases, on hangers, draped over the balcony.
There were bushels and bushels of silver and gold flatware, tables sagging with silver vases and trays, bronze statuettes, china bowls, a microscope in its case, three flutes, an electric guitar, clocks of all sizes, a sword, 35mm cameras, movie cameras, a silver piggy bank inscribed "M. Anthony Smith," rugs, fur coats, lockets, rings, bracelets, two whole display cases of necklaces, candelabra, elaborate silver tea sets, punch bowls, opera glasses, pocket watches, gold wristwatches (some still running when found), Omega watches, Girard-Perregaux watches, wafer-thin watches, antique pocket wathces, empty watch cases, naked watchworks, a five-foot tin knight, medals and coins, knickknacks, bric-a-brac, gewgaws, whatnots and a stuffed wart hog's head.
John DeJarld and his wife found a bracelet she got when she graduated from high school in 1929. A month ago, in a police display in Germantown, Md., they had found his watch. Their Silver Spring home was burglarized in February.
"They kicked in the bathroom window," he said, "and reached in and opened the door. We had gone out to dinner on the spur of the moment, were gone about an hour and a half, and when I saw the stuff all dumped on the dining room floor I got cold chills. I rushed right in -- of course, that's the last thing you want to do -- but they were gone. There was stuff all over. The bedroom, everywhere. Just dumped on the floor."
The couple lost their heirloom silver, rings, $300 in cash and other items that came to $15,000 . . . "but for actual replacement value, you couldn't touch it for $25,000."
Since that night they have spent $600 on a bolted-down safe, extra locks and so many security devices that "now, we can't break out."
Burglary is almost like being raped, some victims say. The knowledge that your private life has been invaded, your possessions handled and tossed about, can be shattering. One woman said she burned all her underwear after it was strewn around in a burglary.
Another woman -- "no name! they might come back!" -- found a watch her daughter had given her in 1941 and her old DAR pin with an ancestor's name on it. She was hit on a cold night in January 1980.
"We had kept the cats in, and I heard all this noise, and I called out, "What you doing there, cats?' and then the door slammed downstairs. They were pros. They cleaned us out. Boxes of silver in the basement, everything. They didn't get the jewelry because that was upstairs."
She thinks the back door had been left unlocked that night, though usually the family is careful about it.
"You got to watch for shrubbery around your windows," advised detective Michael Heidenberg. "Don't leave newspapers out when you leave. Look out for door-to-door salesmen who look phony, like a man who offers to mow your lawn but has no mower. Burglars stay away from houses where there's a car in the garage or dogs or alarm decals. You should photograph your property, scratch your Social Security number on it . . ."
But if they're going to hit you, they're going to hit you, he said. "I've been burglarized myself."
Some identifiable items from the Greenthumb haul (rescued from the trash is the very pillowcases they had been stolen in but rejected by the fences for one reason or another):
A gold medallion marked "Always n' Forever, Cath." A silver lighter: "Barnhurst Heppe." A gold bracelet: "Becky Dave March 31." A gold watch: "Bernard Rosenberg 1922." A gold wedding band: "BLL to BCJ 10-18-58." A gold pocket watch with chain: "David Fisher." A silver ashtray: "June 2, 1953 Frederick Pratt Reynolds III." A State Department 20-year-old service pin inscribed "His Lordship." A silver platter: "Happy 25 anniversary Mom and Dad, John Frances Michael." A 24-carat gold-plated toothbrush from Neiman-Marcus. The sterling silver shovel used by President Taft at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. A gold pin marked "President of USA." Plus any number of class rings, sorority pins, bracelet charms and lots of hotel silver from the Statler, the Sheraton and other places . . .