Gotcha A..hole

Written by Harold McNeill on November 29th, 2011. Posted in Police Notebook


An upside of being a policeman was being afforded the opportunity to get the upper hand on some idiot who cared nothing about the effect his actions had on innocent people. It might be as simple as traffic violation but in many cases, it also involved more serious criminal events.

Perhaps you have at one time experienced the feeling of being screwed around by someone but there was not a damn thing you could do about it? How good it would have felt to turn the tables. Hollywood has made dozens of movies on the subject although most dealt with violent crimes where retribution was meted out by an ‘off the rails citizen’ as in Law Abiding Citizen, or by that ‘no rules apply’ policeman, Dirty Harry.

The case at hand in this story was much tamer but never-the-less a crime that caused considerable anguish for the victim. In this house burglary in south Oak Bay, the owners was away on holidays. The crime was discovered by a neighbor doing a perimter check and although we had no idea what might have been taken, in the master bedroom we noticed a mess on the floor as if a pile of soot had been scattered about1.

When the family returned, they determined that among several items taken was a quantity of heirloom jewelry dating back to the great-great-grandparents on the mother’s side. It was a devastating loss, particularly to the wife as her father, who had recently passed away, had just given her the jewelry before he died. More on that in the story, but first, about the soot on the bedroom floor – it was her father’s ashes. A double whammy.  It was fortunate the ashes had not been vacuumed by the neighbor as we had asked him to leave the home as found in order to assist in the follow-up investigation.

Over the next week, my partner, Det. Sgt Fowler, and I put substantial effort into scanning the Pawn Sheets and shaking down suspects, but nothing came to light. Finally, while ‘squeezing’ a suspect in another case, we learned the burglar, in this case, was currently serving time in the Brannan Lake Youth Detention Centre in Nanaimo. He was inside for a burglary and a car theft in another jurisdiction.

Given our informant was usually reliable, we decided to see if the guy in Brannon Lake would take a ‘freebie’  (a pass on charges) in return for providing a lead on the missing jewelry. We drove to Nanaimo, arranged a meet and from the moment he entered the holding room, the kid directed a stream of expletives our way that would make a biker blush.  The case then fell onto the back burner as we knew he did it, but had no physical proof other than the word of our informant.

Two weeks later we received a tip about a suspect in another case hanging out in a basement suite just off Bay Street near Blanshard. Late one afternoon we scouted the area and while driving down the alley recorded the licence numbers of several vehicles which we then ran through CPIC (Canadian Police Information System) system. Bingo, one vehicle had been recently stolen in Nanaimo after a burglary of the owner’s home.

As we had nothing pressing on our agenda we decided to just sit tight and watch. Not long after dark, we saw a shadow emerge into the alley and enter the stolen 4X4.  When the engine started and the lights came on we roared down the alley, jumped out with guns drawn and shut down the suspect before he could even catch his breath.

After he was removed him from the vehicle and handcuffed, I shone the light in his face, then turned to Garth and said: “You know Garth, there really is a God!” It was our young friend from Brannon Lake. This time the suspect was considerably more subdued than when we first met.  A search of the vehicle revealed a number of items that would likely trace back to a Nanaimo burglary.

We had him solid on possession of a stolen vehicle and suspected some of the property in the vehicle was likely tied to the burglary. The Nanaimo RCMP would no doubt charge him with one or more burglaries in that city. As it seemed he destined to go down on several charges, we decided to try a little horse trading. We told him we would give him a pass on the Oak Bay B&E if he helped us recover the jewelry.

Well, it was a good news and bad news response. The good news, he admitted the burglary and told us he had tossed the jewelry, but then came the bad news – he had tossed it in a dumpster near the 7-11 at Cook and Pandora when he noticed police cars in the area and was afraid of being checked with the jewelry in his pocket.

As three weeks had now passed, it was highly unlikely the jewelry would still be present, but never-the-less we decided to do a little dumpster diving. No luck. It was a disappointing end to the case, but that disappointment was part and parcel of many investigations – nothing like the outcomes on most TV shows.

While Garth and I could never lay claim to being “Dirty Harry” types, we did share several “Gotcha Asshole” moments. The upside on this case, we managed to remove this offender from the streets for a few more months and it had felt ‘soooo’ good to tightly clamp the handcuffs on those thieving wrists…

Harold McNeill

1. While excessive damage during a burglary was not a regular occurrence the occasional culprit seemed bent on destroying property (throwing food around, knocking over plants, urinating or defecating on personal belongings, etc.). In one case on Foul Bay Road, the culprit(s) spent at least a half hour destroying property with the damage mounting into the thousands of dollars. In these cases, it seemed the damage was motivated almost entirely by anger at some perceived wrong. In these cases, it was particularly gratifying to catch the perpetrators and put them behind bars, even if just for a brief period.

(March 17, 2016 271)


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  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read your life account of Pibroch excellent.
    My family mowed to Pibroch in 1942 Dad was grain buyer for Searle Grain Company lived in town for 5 years than mowed one mile East to the farm on the corner of the road from Pibroch and Hwy 44. Bro Don still lives there.I went to school with both you and Louise.


    November 15, 2021 |

    These stories brought back some sweet memories for me. a wonderful trip down memory lane . the photos were great. It has made me miss those days.


    November 15, 2021 |

    Enjoyed your story Harold Dorothy Hartman