And because it’s west county, things get weird
The first reports of mail theft appeared on Nextdoor Sebastopol last year, and over the last several months, there’s been a slow, steady drumbeat of complaints, each one with long trains of comments saying essentially “me too.” If people hadn’t been the victim of theft, then they’d found the telltale signs of it—finding other people’s mail dumped in their front yard or in ditches by the side of the road.
Gauging from Nextdoor, you’d think it was limited to South Sebastopol, but a quick call to the sheriff’s department reveals that’s not the case. “We’ve received six reports of mail theft in Sebastopol since July 1,” said Sergeant Spencer Crum, communications officer for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. He read off the list of streets where people had filed complaints: “Ferguson, Burnside, Fiori, Elphick, Watertrough, Green Valley Road and several from Graton.”
Sebastopol Police said they’d received no complaints of mail theft, but that’s not surprising. Mail thieves often target rural areas because they’re lightly populated—the haul is lighter, but it’s easier to grab the mail without being seen.
A local carrier who didn’t want to be named said that the thief or thieves had become more brazen recently—not merely taking packages from front porches and mail from unlocked mailboxes, but breaking into the locked neighborhood mail collection boxes known as NDCBUs.
The thief that targeted Anna Klein’s house (not her real name), probably thought it looked like an easy target, located on a quiet street in the Bloomfield neighborhood.
“It started on Father’s Day,” Klein recalled. “First one package disappeared from our front porch, then it happened again the next day.”
What the thief didn’t know, however, was that he was being recorded on Klein’s security camera. “We checked the video, and sure enough, there he was—same guy, same truck, both days.”
“That’s when we decided to create a fake package and fill it with poo,” she said. (Happily, the couple has a dog that was willing to supply the contents.) Klein also included a note for the thief, warning him that they had video footage of him and his car and would be turning it over to the police.
“I really thought that would be the end of it,” Klein said.
But it wasn’t. Three weeks later the thief returned. This time, he parked his car out of sight of the security camera and walked up to the front porch, wearing a clown mask.
Klein turned to Nextdoor, where she’d already put up a photo from the video of the thief and his pick-up truck. It’s an unusual truck—a blue body with a green truck bed. She noticed that a similar truck had been described in a couple of other incidents on Nextdoor—one involving someone going through people’s recycling looking for discarded mail and another report involving the theft of a metal gate.
On July 11, Scott DuRoff on Elphick filed this report on Nextdoor: “There were several packages stolen off our front porch on Elphick Road. They couldn’t have been there for very long. I actually saw the young man who stole them as he was running away. He was white, late twenties, straight brown hair, thin, probably about 5’10” to 6’. He jumped into a waiting older blue green Ford Ranger extra cab pickup truck. I ran after him, but they sped off before I could get the license plate. They tagged me for about $400 worth of camper turnbuckles, Yakima kayak rack parts and clothing.”
Finally—ah, the wonder of social media—someone messaged Klein on Nextdoor, saying that they’d gotten the license number of a car that looked a lot like the one described above.
Klein and her husband hired a private investigator who told them the name of the person who owned the car, the owner’s address and the fact that he had a criminal record for theft. She turned all this information over to the county sheriff. And…nothing happened.
Klein said an officer told her that they were unable to pursue the case because there wasn’t a strong enough link between the license plate number and the car in question. (A call to the Sheriff’s Department was unable to confirm this detail.)
The good news is, last week, the US Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the postal service, assigned an officer from the San Francisco division to look into mail theft in Sebastopol and west county. (The San Francisco division is responsible for a vast territory stretching from the Bay Area to the Oregon border.)
Jeff Fitch, public information officer for the San Francisco division of the US Postal Inspection Service, said he wasn’t surprised to hear there’d been an uptick in mail theft in west county. “It’s not happening just in Sebastopol or Sonoma County,” he said. “It’s happening all over the state, particularly in the Central Valley. There’s been a significant increase in reports of mail theft over the last year from all around California.”
“Mail theft is a serious crime,” he continued, “punishable by up to five years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In addition, there’s up to a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of someone for mail theft.” Fitch laughed when heard about the package of poo, but he was eager to pass Klein’s information along to the officer in charge of the investigation, who will be working with local law enforcement in west county.
For her part, Klein is relieved that someone is on the case. “I just hope they catch the guy,” she said, “because the clown mask kind of creeped me out.”