Showing posts with label pirates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pirates. Show all posts

03 February 2019

SleuthSayers versus Porch Pirates


porch pirate, package thief
by Leigh Lundin

My friend Thrush orders so much stuff on-line, Amazon built a warehouse near his residence. Last year a couple of deliveries went missing, odd computer parts of use only to him. Records showed they were placed at the door, but he didn’t receive them. That tends to defeat the goal of internet shopping of not leaving the house.

After this occurrence, I encountered the term ‘porch pirates’. It turns out some people make a habit of spotting deliveries, sometimes stalking FedEx and UPS trucks, to snatch parcels from the stoop before the owner can retrieve them.

Reports have surfaced of deliverymen who were too lazy or timid to dash through the rain or snow or sleet or hail or gloom of night for a delivery and simply recorded packages as delivered. Fortunately such skulduggery is rare. Snatch and grab is much more common.

Authorities seldom involve themselves in porch thievery. It’s pretty much up to the homeowner to police his parcels. A number of surveillance cameras have caught the unwashed ungodly in the act of larceny and posted the results on YouTube. Sometimes customers get their goods back, sometimes they don’t.

Mark Rober’s Glitter Bomb
Mark Rober’s Glitter Bomb
Glitter Bomb in Action
Glitter Bomb in Action
Catching Crooks with Science, Science, Science…

NASA design engineer Mark Rober suffered the loss of a purloined package. When police refused help, he took matters into his own hands.

“It’s not rocket science,” he thought. And then, “Wait… Maybe it is.”

He built what has become known as the glitter bomb. The video explains better than I. Non-geeks might want to skip a couple of minutes past the two minute spot, but then we get to see the machine in action.

Apparently the public can now buy numerous, dumbed-down copycat versions of the original glorious glitter grenade. Jaireme Barrow’s company sells another device, a 12-gauge shotgun blank that explodes when stolen. Consider patronizing inventors for your porch pirates entertainment.

SleuthSayers to the Rescue

But wait, I thought. What if SleuthSayers built their own lanai larcenist Crime Stopper? What if we readers and writers cooked up a sadistic surprise for blatant banditos? In particular, why not a corpse, a bloodied, battered, putrefying remains of a body? Left amongst the severed parts might lie a note, maybe ransom, maybe threatening.

Not a real corpse, of course, but a masterpiece facsimile to gut grabbers of goods. Surely our audience could come up with a masterpiece of vile verisimilitude to make a vandal vomit. (My alliteration seems to run amuck today.)

So I’m thinking Eve could bring her varied knowledge and experience to bear as project leader. Rob and David provide research and guidance. Mary and Melodie’s hospital trauma experience might aid artists. Fran brings us cosmetician knowledge, how to make up a corpse. Surely Paul knows Hollywood makeup experts. Who are the artists among us? Janice for sure, maybe Michael or Lawrence? We need slightly mad writers to pen a frightening ransom note, surely Steve, Stephen and Barb. Brian’s exposure to the world of teens could prove helpful in choice of packaging– Xbox or iPad, none of that fuddy-duddy Dell stuff. I picture RT and O’Neil procuring a skeleton, not a real one but a classroom model smuggled out of Quantico. We’d rely upon John’s computer skills to man the 3D printer, stamping out faux phalanges and fingers, tarsals and teeth. What about our readers?

Flesh texture strikes me as a problem, although gross enough remains might deter curious pokes and probes. Say we want to apply tissue and rancid adipose upon a 3D-printed or purchased skull. Would a slab of jowl bacon be kosher? Or is there a plastic or polymer clay that firms a little but doesn’t become hard? Or would silicon work? Enquiring minds want to know.

Sony Aibo
What about eyes? The inner strata of decomposing onions or leek bulbs in eye sockets scare me thinking about it. What about rotting brain matter? Would dyed rice pudding or tapioca work? I never liked that stuff anyway, that icky larvae textures. Ugh. Who are the disturbed chemists among us? Enquiring minds want to know.

Let’s say O’Neil and RT settle upon packaging from an Aibo, Sony’s expensive robot dog. The team packs the diabolical creation in the box. We apply fake labels, set it out on the stoop under the watchful eye of hidden, internet cameras, and it’s good to go.

And then… and then…

Nefarious package jackers arrive. The gluttonous, greedy gomers help themselves to the heavy box, knowing Aibo’s a $1700 toy. They wrestle it to their get-away van. Jostling activates John’s cameras and GPS. O’Neil and RT track the package to a suspected neighborhood crack house where they find two men and a woman on their butts, flattened against the walls, shrieking in terror.

Authorities commit the traumatized thieves to the hospital’s mental health ward for observation. USPS and Amazon report a 13% reduction in package theft. SleuthSayers head for the nearest bar.

Who’s in?

A Hysterical History of Horror

Terror on Church Street monkish mascot

We must avoid the consequences undergone by my friend Robbie. Robbie Pallard worked for Disney as a designer when Terror on Church Street opened a downtown Orlando attraction, a block-long haunted two-storey mansion on steroids. This house of horror’s ghoulish attics and cellars bulged with cruelty and crime. A ghostly graveyard covered the results from its mad scientist labs.

ToCS picked Robbie to design their sets, mostly scenes from infamous horror movies. He tapped me to build their web site and a couple of props.

Their choice of Robbie wasn’t accidental– his reputation preceded him. He was once commissioned to decorate and stage a vignette for an upcoming Halloween party at a fancy, upscale house.

Sometime after completion, a visitor comes to the door. Getting no response from the doorbell, the nosy nelly peeks through windows. Moments later, the hysterical busybody phones police, screaming.

SWAT bursts in. They encounter a gut-turning scene… a tortured body hanging from the staircase. Underneath, a chainsaw rests on plastic sheeting. Cops race to track down the owners; the owners race to track down Robbie. He explains, owners explain, disbelief ensues, hilarity does not. Cops go home. Busybody and news trucks go home disappointed no murder occurred.

The Demise of Terror

Terror on Church Street suffered a sad demise. Once the site of McCrory's Ten-Cent Store at 135 South Orange Avenue, the colorful and popular attraction provided employment for numerous students, vendors, and goths who could work in their natural habiliments without drawing personal criticism.

Terror on Church Street poster
Robbie Pallard in action
The attraction grew too popular for its own good. The building was a historical site, registered and protected by the local Historical Society. Unfortunately it sat on a very valuable square of land in one of America’s most popular cities. The shame that happened next made the nightly news.

In violation of the state’s Sunshine Law, the mayor and cronies met after hours in a closed door session. In an after-hours coup, they authorized demolition of the building. Wrecking ball cranes and bulldozers that had been standing by, were already moving into the city. Through the night, they flattened the building to rubble. By dawn, nothing was left of the building but shattered bricks. The Historical Society was furious a protected building had been destroyed in a nighttime fait accompli.

The mayor justified leveling the structure without due procedure by characterizing it as an immiment danger to the public, requiring immediate action. That morning, Code Enforcement was laughing, noting ToCS was one of the most inspected buildings downtown, regularly visited by building department officials and almost daily by fire inspectors.

The Historical Society wrung its hands; the destruction was complete. Within days, construction began on a $20-million tower. Political machinations constituted the real terror on Church Street.

28 March 2014

Crime Cruise-Cartagena


by R.T. Lawton


Harbor with skyline of new Cartagena
Cartagena was the second port of call for our cruise ship. Even though I came as a tourist, I left the badge I usually carry in my billfold at home. Probably wouldn't do to inadvertently become involved in a situation and have that gold shield come to light. Back when the Medellin and Cali cartels were in full swing, some of our guys got kidnapped and shot in Colombia. Plus South America likes tourist money, but they are wary of U.S. citizens in-country who could appear to be there in an unofficial capacity. So why take the risk? I'm on vacation.

The Tour

These days, Cartagena is a large commercial shipping port, a carryover from the early years when it was a Spanish stronghold during their conquest of South America. Founded in 1533 on the site of an Indian village by the name of Calamar, the conquistadors used this port to gather much of their gold looted from the natives and then shipped this treasure to Spain.
Casa de Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Our tour bus met us at the pier and drove through some of the poorer parts of the city en route to our first destination. All of the side-by-side, squeezed together residences and small businesses had metal grill work over their doors and windows. It's not there just for decoration. At one spot, a large open gate provided a quick glimpse of an old man in shorts, no shirt, working on a dilapidated car, but then most commercial port areas are life in reality, not scenic attractions.

At some point, our route also took us past the Casa de Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez is a famous South American author of several novels, some of which are in the mystery genre. Though not a mystery, one of the novels he was famous for in North America was Love in the Time of Cholera.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
First stop is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, built from blocks of stone and blocks of faded red coral. This is one impressive fortress constructed on a hill overlooking the harbor and the old city. With its long sloping ramps, drawbridge, high walls, multiple levels, dark and winding interior tunnels dug out of solid rock, multitude of cannons and crisscrossing fields of fire, this fort was a formidable obstacle to any Old World enemy assaulting from land or by sea. And the view from the top is breath taking, even if you aren't already winded by all the stairs or other climbing to get there.

Walls around old city
Next, the bus takes us to the old walled city where we walk on the ancient walls that once guarded this part of the city from pirates. Here, the walls are much lower than the fort, but have lots of cannon ports to repel an enemy. From the walls, we descend a ramp into the old city streets and enter the calle where parts of Romancing the Stone were filmed. Second story balconies, much like the ones in the French Quarter of New Orleans, are covered with bright Bougainvillaea hanging from wooden boxes. The tour guide says these house owners get a break on their property taxes for maintaining the decorative flowers. On the narrow street below the balconies, vendors with limited English abilities besiege us with offers to sell bottled pop, water or beer from tubs of ice. Others hawk t-shirts and trinkets.

Romancing the Stone street as seen from old city walls
Our walking tour leads us through a naval museum with models of the harbor, forts and walled city as they were centuries ago, a beautiful cathedral and the Palacio de la Inquisicion. A gallows and several instuments of torture are displayed in the palace's courtyard. Didn't do to be other than a faithful Catholic in those days.

On the way back to the ship, our bus stops at a small, two-level, open air shopping mall where one can buy emeralds, Colombian coffee or souvenirs. If you take a photo of one of the colorfully dressed, female fruit vendors, be sure to give her a couple of dollars, else she will track you down and make loud demands for money. There are signs on the street requiring those two dollars for any photo taken of her.

Fruit vendor
The Crime

All the gold plunder coming overland from Peru to Cartagena soon came to the attention of Caribbean pirates and privateers. French pirate Robert Baal was the first to attack the city in 1544. In 1559, Martin Cote (French) followed suit. Twenty-four years later, the English buccaneer John Hawkins decided it was his turn, but Cartagena's new cannons drove him off. In 1572, Francis Drake (English) sacked the city and pillaged its treasure, to include the city's bells. Baron de Pontis (French) occupied the city for two months in 1697, and English admiral Edward Vernon tried his luck in 1741, but didn't succeed. Seems pirates were a plague on the population back then.

In more recent years, home grown drug cartels brought money, violence and corruption to the country. Mother ships out of Cartagena sailed north with their holds packed with drugs for the U.S. market, but then everyone is familiar with Pablo Escobar and his kind. Our tour guide spoke of him and the cartels as not being a problem to Cartagena anymore. Maybe so, in which case we can talk of smaller crimes.

Old cathedral with crypt in foreground
Glen David Short, a freelance writer based in Cartagena wrote an article concerning advice for the tourist, 25 things you should be wary of in Cartagena. Here's a few.

1) Never, ever change money on the streets. Unlike other South American countries, there is no black market, and it is not safe or recommended. Getting short-changed or handed fake bills, or having your wallet snatched from your hands in broad daylight are common scams. Cartagena has plenty of banks and casa de cambios. Many large hotels and emerald shops will change dollars, and most businesses accept US dollar bills.

3. Don't walk on the wall at night. Despite the romantic vistas and the fact that scores of locals and lovers do, it is a known haunt of thieves and assaults on women have been reported.

7. It might sound obvious, but don't walk around flashing expensive cameras, jewelry, wads of money, etc. Places like beaches, outside banks and the area around the clock tower are favored pickpocket haunts. Thieves have been known to follow people from banks for up to half a day before they strike. Remember there are tens of thousands of desplazados, or displaced people in Cartagena who have fled the problems in the interior of Colombia. Many of these people work for a salary of $2 a day. Be wary of pushy street vendors who wave t-shirts and other objects in your face: often it is a foil or distraction so an accomplice can relieve you of your handbag or camera. Leave your "fanny pack" or zippered money pouch at home-they are sure to attract a thief.


Fort looking at new Cartagena over harbor
10. Swat up on emeralds before you buy. There are many very good dealers, but caveat emptor. You probably won't get green glass, but you might pay more than you should. When ordering custom pieces, make sure that it is the full price you are handing over, not a deposit. Many shops use the word "bono" instead of the word "deposito" to confuse tourists. When the customer returns to pick up the piece they are then told they have only paid for materials, and the full price including labor is usually double.

11. The same goes for Cuban cigars. The ones sold on the street are of dubious origin and freshness. If in doubt, buy from one of the stores. You'll pay more, but you will be getting the real thing.

Old Clock Tower (left), Cathedral (center) & large plaza (right)
19. Carry a photocopy of your passport on your person, but not your actual passport. It is actually illegal to walk the streets in Colombia without I.D., but a photocopy will suffice in 90% of situations. Don't give your passport to anyone who doesn't produce convincing I.D. themselves.

All in all, we enjoyed Cartagena for its historical value, beautiful cathedrals and panoramic views from the fort. Other than being swamped by vendors, we had no problems. In our minds, this is not a sun and water vacation destination, but we would gladly return in order to tour other places in Cartagena that we didn't have time for on this trip.

See you in two weeks in the Panama Canal. Did you know that big ditch actually runs north and south rather than east and west?