Scores of crime victims yesterday foraged through a sort of flea market of pilfered property at the D.C. Police Academy, in hopes of finding their stolen goods. But most came away with something they hadn't bargained for.
"Find anything?" one man was asked. "Yeah, more frustration," said George Lightner, who came in search of valuables taken from his Gaithersburg home on New Year's Eve but left with nothing more than a renewed feeling of outrage at the crime.
Helen Holst walked away with the same thing. "All it does is make you mad all over again," said the Fairfax County woman whose home was burglarized on a Friday the 13th last year. "To think that somebody dared walk into your home. It just brings it all back."
Yesterday by midday, however, nearly 80 of the 400 hopeful victims of burglaries and robberies in D.C., Maryland and Virginia who had come to search the tables laden with stolen loot came up lucky. The D.C. police department's Repeat Offenders Project had confiscated the booty -- worth an estimated $3 million -- when police closed down three robbery rings in May and June.
Officers hauled the goods to the department's warehouse, where the volume so overwhelmed the storage space that the department decided to ask for the public's help in identifying the items at a special display open only to victims of crime. Copies of police reports of stolen property served as entrance tickets to the display, which will be open again today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the academy, at 4665 Blue Plains Dr. SW.
Those who showed up yesterday were met with a mind-boggling array of 15,000 items. The jewelry collection alone, which included everything from splashy costume pieces to diamond solitaire rings, had taken three weeks to catalogue and tag, according to the officers who did the work. "I know I could type the words 'gold metal' in my sleep," said Detective Tom Hardy.
But that wasn't half of it. There were power tools and refrigerators. Ornate silver flatware and boxes of Chanel No. 5. A Ms. Pac Man game stood on one aisle, near a phonograph that still contained a record of Mahalia Jackson singing "Silent Night." There were silver certificates and fancy coins from foreign countries. And the pure quantity of it all was part of the problem.
"I found it," yelled Paulette Perl, the victim of a 1983 Christmas Day burglary on Capitol Hill. "Well, I think I've found it," she amended, as she realized that many 14-carat gold chains look alike.
None of those who identified items, however, was able to leave with his or her prize right away. According to Sgt. Don Lyddane, police from the various jurisdictions will have to research the original police reports and verify the stolen goods through serial numbers or other identifying marks before goods are released. If more than one person believes the same item is his, police will hold a hearing to determine the owner, he said.
Goods not identified will be auctioned off at the department's annual sale in April, after a pre-auction viewing at which crime victims will have one more chance to identify their valuables.
One man from Mount Pleasant, who said he was robbed 10 times in the first 12 weeks after he moved to that D.C. neighborhood, said he would be back in April. He came in search of a pair of silver wings he got during World War II when he was in an Army bomber crew. "The main thing is to get the [thieves] who did it," he said, making a choking gesture with his hands. "The whole thing makes me sick."