Just before 5 a.m. on Sunday, Rob Bertrand received a voice mail from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office: It looks like you were burglarized last night. Give 911 a call.
Someone had broken into his Vancouver, Wash., escape room, an interactive choose-your-adventure game where customers are locked inside and find clues that will lead them out.
“I ran upstairs,” Bertrand, 40, told The Washington Post; his wife, Tamara, was still asleep in their bedroom. “I said, ‘Tamara, you’ve got to get up. Things are going down, we’ve got to get to work.’ ”
Within minutes, they arrived at NW Escape Experience, the business they opened a year earlier.
The former Comcast sales supervisor and movie memorabilia collector said escape rooms are his true calling. He first learned about the concept on his son’s birthday. Two and a half months later, the couple bit the bullet — no pun intended. In October 2016, they opened their first room: “the Kill Room,” blood-spattered and designed to look like a serial killer’s basement hideout.
NW Escape Experience has three themed rooms — the serial killer adventure, where players have been abducted; the comedic “Hangover Hotel”; and “the FBI Investigation,” based on the 1971 skyjacking of Northwest Airlines Flight 305, the famous D.B. Cooper mystery. In all scenarios, players are trapped for 60 minutes. The goal is to escape by successfully completing a series of riddles.
“If you don’t know what you’re getting into, stepping into that room is actually pretty scary,” Rob said, referring to the Kill Room. The room features an authentic steel autopsy table and a dead body (not authentic) in the center. There’s also a work bench for the murderer’s tools and a desk for crime-planning.
“I was expecting the worst,” Tamara Bertrand, 41, recalled thinking as she pulled into the strip mall complex on July 8. Four police cruisers lined the curb, and she expected the business’s front glass windows to be shattered and the electronics stolen. “I figured it would cost us a lot of money and a lot of heartache,” she told The Post.
Chuckling, Clark County Deputy Sheriff Rob Ternus approached the couple and pointed at one of the police cars. Rob remembered a man with cropped hair and a slightly unkempt goatee sitting in the back seat, rambling incoherently. Ternus said the man broke into the business, got scared and called 911 on himself.
Tamara said the police told her that the intruder unsuccessfully attempted to enter through the back door using a metal pipe. He then allegedly broke a hole through a bathroom wall, climbed into an electrical closet and toppled over a set of lockers.
Based on an audio recording taken from inside the business, authorities believed the man snatched a nonworking phone, a television remote, and a can of beer from the fridge, and wandered into the creepy unlit room. Ternus said he was also carrying a burrito.
Although the Kill Room is equipped with a panic door that is always unlocked, it appeared the burglar freaked out before using it. According to the caller-ID system, he called 911 four times from inside NW Escape Experience.
Ternus said that Rye Wardlaw, 40, was on the premises when deputies arrived. He was taken into custody and confessed to the crime, Ternus said.
Wardlaw has been charged with second-degree burglary and is scheduled to appear in court July 20, according to court records. Defense attorney Therese Marie Lavallee could not be reached immediately for comment.
The Bertrands quickly realized that the damage to their business, which they estimated at $1,500, wasn’t terrible. Then, they both agreed, their Sunday morning was pretty jovial.