May 1967 QST
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"If the car is parked in a dark remote spot
it is better to do the job where the car is. This is because auto burglary is a
lesser crime than stealing the whole damn car." That remark was made by a 'former'
thief who ostensibly gave up a life of crime after spending nearly two decades in
the slammer for various infractions of the law. One of his specialties was breaking
into cars to steal radios - AM, FM, CB, Ham, or whatever was available. Mr. X
volunteered his insight for the benefit of QST readers who might want to take proactive
steps to help minimize the chance of being a victim. The year was 1967, but you
can bet the same mindset pervades the thinking of modern day break and grab
thieves today. Even though most modern portable electronics equipment is
protected from access by passwords, that wouldn't stop a thief from stealing
something and then either throwing a locked phone, Ham rig, or laptop computer
away, or selling it for parts.
Don't Lose Your Mobile Rig
By Mike Cresthall
Author's note: This article is the result of an interview
with an EX car thief. This person, anonymous for obvious reasons, consented to grant
me this interview for Marcogram providing his identity be withheld. For this interview,
I will call him Mr. X.
Marcogram: Mr. X, before we start, perhaps you would
like to give us a bit of an insight in to your background.
Mr. X: I am 42 years of age, and I spent 17
years in jail for crimes ranging from safecracking to auto-burglary. My last prison
term ended in September, 1966, having spent 7 years of a ten-year term for breaking
and entering, and for forgery.
Marcogram: What type of vehicle would you
consider the easiest to enter, and what would you look for?
Mr. X: I preferred
unlocked vehicles, but in general, all cars are simple to enter, locked or not.
The easiest from my point are rag tops (convertibles) and the two-door hardtops.
However, most car-men (Note: car-men are thieves who specialize in theft from automobiles.)
will not bother with a securely locked car because it is risky to slit a rag top
or use a "snake" to open a locked car. (A snake is a hooked wire used to catch the
door lock and open a locked door.) The hardest are Volvos and Volkswagens.
Marcogram: How about lock-picks and skeleton keys?
Mr. X: Good question.
I never liked lock picks for automobile work, as the locks are not suitable for
picking. Auto locks differ from standard locks in that the home type work on the
pin and tumbler principle: automobile locks are wafer types, and they are difficult
to pick due to their construction. As for skeleton keys, some like 'em, but I don't
for the reason that you have to carry 120 of the devils around. I prefer hooking
the latch with a snake wire, or in some cases, making a key impression. (Note: I
was given a demonstration on my own mobile of this art of "impressioning". It truly
must be seen to be appreciated. Simply by placing a blank in the lock and turning
the key blank he knew where to file the blank. It took him exactly 3 1/2 minutes
to open my door.)
Marcogram: What sort of things do you look for in a parked
Mr. X: We look for cameras, portable radios, furs, salesmen's cases,
jewelry, and the like.
Marcogram: What use would a salesman's case have?
Mr. X: We can sell it to his competitor for a good price.
How about ham radios? Have you ever stolen one, and if you did, how did you go about
disposing of it?
Mr. X: I don't know whether I should tell you or not: but
I have stolen a few ham radios in the past. They are easy enough to get out, but
they are difficult to fence. (Note: a fence is a person who knowingly buys stolen
goods.) I got one a while back and sold it for $100.00. Afterwards I found out the
darn thing was worth at least $1,000. I didn't bother with 'em after that.
Marcogram: Where do you strip a car?
Mr. X: If the car is parked in a
dark remote spot it is better to do the job where the car is. This is because auto
burglary is a lesser crime than stealing the whole damn car.
would you remove a ham rig, and approximately how long would it take?
X: It's pretty hard to say because each time is different. I remember one time I
beat (stole) one of those ham radios. I spotted this VE2 license tag and he hadn't
locked his car. It was parked on a dark street and no one was around. It took me
10 minutes to strip his car, including aerial and wires. You know the screws holding
the wires on the radio? Well, I just cut 'em.
Marcogram: How much would you
get for a rig worth, say, $1,000.00?
Mr. X: About 5 years. Seriously, I figure
about 1/3 the current market value. The fences know their values on anything and
everything. One guy stole some lithographing blotters and the fence knew exactly
what they were worth. On the other hand, if I steal "on order," I can get a lot
more - say 1/2 the current value. It is very hard to say on these things.
Marcogram: As you know, Mr. X, this interview is for a Ham Club bulletin; and
I'm sure by now, many readers are thoroughly alarmed. What precautions can you advise?
Mr. X: Lots of insurance.
Marcogram: Any others?
Mr. X: Yes. Don't
park on a dark side street, especially in a strange neighborhood. Roll all windows
up firmly a far as they will go, and lock all doors. It might be good to add that
if you have a gasoline credit card, make sure it is in your wallet, not in the glove
compartment. These cards are worth $100 on the market, and it is the first thing
I look for. Most thefts from cars occur after dark and on dimly lit streets. If
you are to be gone for a long while, it is worth your while to remove the radio
and lock it in the trunk of your car. Incidentally, if you can install one of those
auto burglar alarms, do so. I'm sure you hams can figure them out and this is an
added safety. There is one out which has a siren - and, brother, what a noise it
makes! No car-man would stick around long after that baby goes off!
Are these sirens immune to the impressioning you use?
Mr. X: No. However,
less than 5 percent of the active car-men use impressioning. They rely on the snake
and a knife. There are some alarms that have a hidden switch. This is the best policy;
but if a car-man sees a person activating a hidden switch, that's it.
"Well, Mr. X, I'm sure you have enlightened many of the readers, and on their behalf
I would like to thank you for a very interesting, interview.
(updated from original post on October 24, 2013)