San Remo Restaurant Burglary

Written by Harold McNeill on February 12th, 2012. Posted in Police Notebook


The San Remo Restaurant on Quadra at Hillside, has been a fixture in
Victoria for nearly 30 years. With an array of authentic Greek dishes as well Italian and American favourites, the warm and welcoming atmosphere provided by Dino, his daughter Zoi and the friendly staff makes a visit well worthwhile and repeat visists a must (see photos at end of story).

Quiet Times

It was 2:00 am Monday as I sat in my patrol car at the corner of Foul Bay Road and Fort Street working on a vexing problem. The problem? Trying to stay awake. As usual at the end of a week-end, not a thing was happening throughout the city and the radio barely crackled. You could fire a rifle down Douglas Street or along Oak Bay Ave and never fear of hitting anyone. It was nice to have an interlude, but the challenge at 2:00 am was keeping the mind occupied and off the thought of sleep.

As I whiled away the time, another car would occasionally book off with a vehicle, but nothing of consequence. I reflected back upon those times when my friends Blake Green, a Victoria Police member, and his wife Joanne, lived just a few door’s from where I was parked. The coffee pot was always on and the door open, but not a 2:00 am.  The Green’s had moved in a few years back and the street, Goldsmith, was now long gone as the houses were torn down to make way for a Seniors Housing Complex and the Oak Bay Recreation Centre.

My reason for parking at this particular location was simple — I always found the intersection always produced a car worth checking when things were quiet. It was one of the busiest access to Oak Bay (just ahead of the intersections at Oak Bay Ave Lansdowne). Any ‘near-do-well’ out wandering and venturing across the “Tweed Curtain Pass” could usually be caught trying to sneak in at one of these three locations.

Blake used to tease me about working in Oak Bay, he called it ‘sleepy hollow’, but we both knew full knew I was able to snag just as many interesting cases as did he in the Victoria. It was all in jest of course but it never-the-less stung as large number of Victoria members seemed to think Victoria was the centre of the policing universe. While Oak Bay may have been ‘sleepy hollow’ Blake did not like to be reminded that the area in which he worked was known nationally and internationally as “the city of newly weds and nearly deads”. Tit for tat, the battle of words went on!

Tonight, I had to agreed, it was boring in Oak Bay just as it was in Victoria, Saanich and Esquimal. Oh well, I was not about to change jobs, so closed my eyes for a few minutes just to contemplate life…

Pursuit

I was suddenly jerked from my reverie now by the sound of a vehicle approaching at high rate of speed along Fort Street. Before I could react, the vehicle had passed, shooting through the intersection of Foul Bay at 60-70 mph while heading east along Cadboro Bay Road.

I threw on the overhead lights (leaving the siren off for the time being) and took up chase fully expecting to catch the idiot within the next few blocks. During those years the department still purchased fairly powerful cars, that were capable of challenging most others on the road.

Photo: This is the Oak Bay version of the Dodge Cornet. It still had the 440 hp engine but was much shorter than the full sized version used in other departments.  This model was much easier to handle on the short streets in Oak Bay.

Negotiating the “s” turns as I flew past Eastdowne Road, I eased off, then on the gas peddle just as I had been taught on the pursuit driving course a few years earlier. Doing so helped to keep the car stable in the turns and allowed me to maintain a steady 60 – 70 mph throughout the turns. I had no desire to roll another car as I had done during the driver training course.

Although, I had not yet caught site of the suspect vehicle after taking the final curve at Bowker Avenue, I accelerated toward the Will-O-Way Shopping Centre fully expecting to catch sight of the vehicle as I topped the hill. Then, nothing! I continued to accelerate along the open stretch of Cadboro Bay, scanning the side streets as I passed, but on reaching Lansdowne Road, it was clear the vehicle was long gone. I was left with nothing but a good rush of adrenalin and an accelerated heart rate. In short, I was “pissed right off.”

I was just circling back toward Fort and Foul Bay, with my heart rate finally settling back, when I overheard Victoria PD attending a silent alarm at the San Remo Restaurant on Hillside just north of Quadra.

The Net Closes

From the radio chatter it was apparent the Alarm Company, for some reason, had delayed alerting the police for ten or fifteen minutes while they contacted the reference. The officers at the scene confirmed it was a break-in and would advise further after the reference arrived.

Ten minutes later, I was still sitting on Goldsmith when I heard a car approaching along Cadboro Bay Road. Can you believe it, it was the same vehicle I had lost some ten minutes earlier. This time I jumped immediately and pulled the vehicle over on Fort Street as I called for cover. I fully expected they had been up to no good, so entered the conversation casually never telling them I had observed them a few minutes early. Perhaps they never knew a police car had taken up chase and I wanted to see what kind of story they might try to concock.

First, I inquired if they had been down around the Oak Bay Marina in south Oak Bay, telling them we had just had a break-in at that location. That, of course, was a lie and was exactly the opposite direction from the Hillside B&E and north Oak Bay.  Sure enough, in order to distance themselves  from the Marina they stated they had just been driving around, came down Hillside and eventually ended up on Lansdowne at Cadboro Bay Road.  They had then turned down Cadboro Bay Road and headed back towards the city.

Maintaining an amiable approach, one thing lead to another and after a few minutes of cordial question and answer, I told the pair a quantity of fishing gear had been stolen from the Marina and wondered if they would mind popping the trunk just to put my mind at ease. Of course there was only a small possibility they had any gear in the trunk so the driver, caught between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’, reluctantly climbed out and popped the trunk.

Of course there was no fishing gear, but there were two, nearly full cases, of wine. Bingo! Looking at the bottles, it was obvious this was not a cheap selection and it was highly unlikely these rounders would have purchased so much expensive wine. I casually asked how it came into their possession. The driver stated they had been at a large party (apparently a licenced event) and the brother-in-law of one man had asked them to return some of the left-over wine to the liquor store in the morning. Receipts? “No!” Liquor Licence? “No!”. He must have been one trusting brother-in-law!

I then asked about the crowbar laying on the floor of the trunk. Answer: “Oh, you know, from home, we were doing some renovations yesterday.” Ya, right, and pigs fly. A crowbar, better known as ‘Mr. Crowbar’, was to a burglar, as was a Gold Shield to a cop.

As I continued to ask questions, the two men were clearly becoming edgy, so I was relieved when the cover car arrived to assist just in case the pair decided to bolt.

CSI to the Rescue

As my partner kept watch, I returned to the radio and inquired of the Victoria members if they had any idea what might have been taken in the B&E. After the owner, Dino Petropoulos arrived, it did not take long to establish at least two cases of assorted wine from the bar, that had been left locked in the restaurant office, were missing.  Dino had no quick means to identify the different types of wine but stated – wait for this – he had ripped a corner flap from the side of one box and used it to make a list of the supplies he needed to purchase the next day. He was holding the the torn flap in his hand as we spoke.

After getting a quick description of the flap (size, color etc.), I returned to the trunk and it was evident the section missing from one box flap would, without doubt, match perfectly to that held at the site of the burglary. Q.E.D.

The standard Stolen Property Warning was then read to each of the suspects in turn and, when a less than a convincing explanation was given, both were placed under arrest for PSP (Possession of Stolen Property) as well as Possession of House Breaking Instruments. They were handcuffed and held for the VPD members who would take custody and process the men into the cells.

My partner and I arranged to have the suspect car towed and held onto the wine as it was always good idea to keep possession of some of the evidence – ‘for purposes of continuity’ of course and, perhaps, a few hours in court at some future date. As far as the paperwork, I was more than happy to let the two VPD members wrap up the investigation and complete the reports to Crown Counsel. A ‘leaner’ as we called it.

I headed back to the office write up myotes and prepared my part of the Crown Report, then had a cup of coffee and, of course, a game of crib. My adrenalin rush was now satisfied and knew that Blake, now in the front office, would appreciate that Oak Bay was still helping Victoria to keep up their “cleared by charge” stats as they really hated it when Oak Bay had a higher clearance rate. There was nothing better than a little inter-departmental competition and cooperation to keep the crooks off the street.

Harold McNeill

(1) Goldsmith access to Fort and Foul Bay Road, eventually disappeared with the building of the Oak Bay Recreation Centre and the two Seniors Centres.  For a link to a Map of Oak Bay that shows all street numbers and the date various area’s were developed: Map

San Remo Resturant, February 12, 2012.  Lynn and I went to dinner this evening to meet again with Dino Petropoulos, the man who held the little piece of cardboard with the wine list so many years earlier. He has owned and managed this resturant for nearly thirty years and, in recent years, has shared his life’s work with his dauther Zoi and her friends. In the picture, back left and right is Lynn and Zoi, front left and right Dino and Zoi’s friend Jasmine. Standing right is Emily, the young woman who served our table this evening.

Zoi and her dad share a quiet moment while standing behind the bar.

A couple seated next to our table celebrate an early Valentines Day dinner with wine and helping of Dino’s Special Platter. Photo below of the restaurant in 2012.

San Remo Resturant

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Comments (2)

  • February 13, 2012 at 11:20 pm |

    So, you’re retired and you still deny yourself the pleasure of telling us what happened to the wine in the end?

  • February 14, 2012 at 2:09 am |

    Sorry Lorin it’s as they say about “what happens in Las Vegas…” All I can say is some came back last night after dinner in the form of Orzo…

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  • 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.