Cunning Crooks Think on the Run

The suspect stated that he ‘dropped his cigarettes and needed to pick them up,’ at which point he ran past the witness and fled northbound on First Avenue.

A detective once told me, apropos of his pursuit of crooks and their skill at tripping themselves up sooner or later without any help from the cops, “Thank God they’re not rocket scientists.” That may well be true. Nonetheless, a couple of recent incidents suggest that the typical burglar seems blessed with higher intellectual acumen than the average street thief, if the quick-thinking, bald-faced explanations they give on the occasions when they’re caught in their victims’ apartments are any indication.

On April 19, an East 85th Street resident told the cops that, upon returning to her home at 9:10 a.m. (all but the most desperate burglars prefer to strike during the day, when their victims are most likely to be at work), she found that the door was open as she entered her apartment. Standing there was a thief roaming through her jewelry box. Asked what he was doing, he replied without missing a beat, “I’m looking for someone out the window.”

While his explanation apparently didn’t convince his victim, it did give her sufficient pause to allow him to slip past and exit the apartment with $7,400 worth of her jewelry, including a $5,000 solid-silver Indian necklace.

On May 4, an even cheekier crook visited an East 95th Street address at 9:35 a.m. When the tenant whose apartment he was visiting inquired what he was doing there, he fled without explanation, perhaps because he needed time to think up a good one. A few minutes later, when another witness spotted him in the building’s backyard, he had: The suspect stated that he “dropped his cigarettes and needed to pick them up,” at which point he ran past the witness and fled northbound on First Avenue.

Again the ploy worked, giving him a jump on the cops who responded to the scene. The police officers performed an unsuccessful search of the building’s perimeter and even stopped a possible suspect at East 102nd Street and Second Avenue, but the “show-up” they staged met with negative results. The thief, who didn’t manage to get any property, apparently fits the description of a burglar who’d earlier attempted to plunder an East 92nd Street address.

Campus Crime

Anybody who has ever taught undergrads knows that their bored, vacant expressions-not to mention their frequent yawning jags-can make you feel seriously insecure. But one Hunter College art teacher may have had better reason than most to doubt her popularity with her students on May 3 when she briefly stepped out of an 11th-floor classroom at 5 p.m. to get a new projector after the one she was using broke.

She returned with a new machine and finished her class. But after it was over, she noticed that her handbag-which contained a number of credit cards, including Visa Platinum, MasterCard and American Express-was missing. She discovered the bag in the ladies’ room on the same floor. No one besides her students-three of them, all female-had entered the classroom, she told the cops.

Norwegian Man Found

Bjarte Taraldset, a 29-year-old Norwegian man who was the object of an extensive search by his family, his friends and the NYPD after he vanished on April 12, was found in Los Angeles by the NYPD on May 9 in good condition.

“NYPD spoke with him,” said Carl Locke, the director of client services for the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, which had joined friends of the missing man and the Norwegian Consulate in trying to alert New Yorkers about the case. Their efforts included an extensive leafleting campaign on Christopher Street, throughout the city’s gay bars and in Times Square, where Mr. Taraldset was believed to be headed when he disappeared on the second day of a planned weeklong visit to New York.

“He wasn’t in trouble,” said Mr. Locke. “They told him that he was a missing person and that Tony [Skaggs, his boyfriend] and his family was worried about him. He was basically, ‘What’s the fuss about?'”

Mr. Taraldset was last known to have been on Charles Street in the West Village around 6 p.m. the day he vanished, and was thought to have headed to the No. 1 train to go to Times Square. He was supposed to have boarded a plane home to Bergen, Norway, on April 18 but never did.

Part of the reason for his friends’ and relatives’ concern was that he’d left his personal possessions, including his airline ticket, behind in New York. Also, he was known as a responsible person, and he was subject to toxic-allergic syndrome, which can cause unconsciousness.

“I know he’s staying with another man,” Mr. Locke added. “I don’t know who. Tony said in our [April 19] press conference [that] he didn’t think he knew anyone else here.”

Jan Larsen, Norway’s consul in New York City, said that the break in the case came from the Internet. “Something was found on the Net, an address,” he explained. “He had a contact with someone on the Net, apparently with someone in Los Angeles and before he disappeared.”

Lieutenant Elias Nikas, a spokesman for the NYPD, said he couldn’t confirm that the break in the case came off the Internet, but he noted that the Sixth Precinct Detective Squad, which led the investigation, was joined by the Missing Persons Bureau’s Computer Investigation and Technology Unit.

“Los Angeles’ missing-persons unit assisted us in locating Mr. Taraldset,” Lt. Nikas added. “He stated to the Los Angeles Police Department that he voluntarily left New York to visit a friend in Los Angeles. He made the decision not to inform Mr. Skaggs or his family that he was going to L.A.”

“From my perspective, I’m glad he’s safe,” Mr. Locke said. “Now it’s going to be up to the family and Tony to heal and make of this what they can and move on with their lives.”

Cunning Crooks  Think on the Run