To Catch a Thief

Written by Harold McNeill on January 21st, 2011. Posted in Police Notebook


Find out how an old friend managed to nail the thieves who were stealing gas from the company fuel storage tank.

Stealing Gas From Tank

The following incident happened in the early 2000’s and was written in 2005 and posted in 2011 when the blog was first opened.  The man who was the centre of the story and about 75 years old at the time, Jack Start, worked hard all his life. Short in the stature, but stocky in build, his deep, gravely voice commanded attention.

For over 50 years, he earned a good living blasting and building roads to mines and logging facilities over the length and breadth of Vancouver Island. He was honest as the day is long and would give his last dollar to someone in need but, steal or try to steal something from him and he would get his back up in a hurry.  The story took place at his somewhat remote 30-acre piece of property on the Malahat Drive just north of Victoria, B.C. (February 10, 2018 (Post Count 2632))

To Catch a Thief 

At 4:00 am it was overcast and pitch-black at the home of Jack and Ruth Start when the driveway alarm Jack had linked to their doorbell shook him from his slumber.  He jumped from the bed and slipped on his boots while telling Ruth to just stay put, that he would be back shortly. Jack grabbed his shotgun and while still in his pyjamas opened the door knowing no one would be standing there.

Jack was almost certain tonight was the night he would catch himself a thief. He wasn’t angry, hell, he wasn’t even nervous as he walked to his truck and climbed in, he was just a man on a mission. Even though he was approaching his seventies, he was no longer willing to let those thieving bastards continue to drive Start Homeaway with his gas. If the RCMP could not catch them, come hell or high water, Jack would do the job for them. He started the engine, jammed the truck in gear and hit out along the winding driveway towards his shop area. (2016 – 585)

The Start home (photo left) was situated on an isolated acreage overlooking Brentwood Bay, a half kilometre below the Malahat Drive section of the Trans Canada about three kilometres northwest of Goldstream Park. Nestled in a grove of tall evergreens and surrounded by manicured lawns, the home was perched on the edge of a cliff that dropped 150 meters to the dark, cold waters of Brentwood  Bay.

Photo (personal files):  Looking down the winding driveway towards the Start home.  The fuel storage area and workshop was located in a secluded area about 100 meters further up the slope.

When looking out their living room window at night, the glow of light filtering into the clouds and mist above Greater Victoria, some 20 kilometres to the south, added to the sense peacefulness with the silence only interrupted by the occasional sounds of traffic moving along the Malahat.

In the 1960’s Jack and Ruth selected this 30-acre property to build their dream home as much for the spectacular view as for the abundant wildlife that Jack and Ruth nurtured with loving care. On any given day when travelling down the long winding driveway, it was evident the deer and all manner of other animals and birds loved this location as Jack made twice-weekly trips to Victoria to pick discarded vegetables and fruit at Thrifty Foods in Broadmead. However, life on the property was not always as peaceful as Jack and Ruth had hoped. Over the years and particularly in the last several months, thieves had been making regular night time visits to Jack’s workshop and fuel area.

Their interest was the 1000 gallon fuel tank that was easy to access and required only a pry bar to break the lock.  Jack lodged several complaints Jack and Ruth Startwith the Colwood RCMP, but after many months the police had no success in stopping the thievery. Jack was not so much upset by the theft of the gas – hell he had enough money to keep the tank full for the rest of his life – no, for Jack it was the matter of principle.

He had worked hard his entire life and had earned a comfortable living for himself and his family, yet sneak thieves seemed to think it was OK to just take another mans property.  Hell, if they needed help or a few gallons of gas, he would gladly give it to them. He’d even give them an extra $10.00 for a meal if they needed it. No, instead, they had to sneak in under the cover of darkness to steal what they wanted. In Jack’s mind, it just wasn’t right.

After waking one morning to discover the thieves had again pried the lock off his tank and stolen more gas, Jack drove to the RCMP Office in Colwood and spoke to one of the young Constables.  After being given the usual line about a lack of police resources, the need to “prioritize” calls and other excuses designed to pacify a persistent complainant, Jack stated:  “Ok young woman, seeing as how you folks can’t find the time to catch these guys, how about I catch them for you then give you a call to pick them up?”   The young Constable smiled in a patronizing manner and told Jack he had best leave catching criminals to the police as they didn’t want to see him get hurt.

Ever the gentleman, Jack thanked the officer and left – he was now a man on a mission and there was no doubt in his mind he could catch the little bastards. As a young man, Jack had spent five years during World War II as an Army Dispatch Rider in England, France, Belgium and Holland and, other than losing a good part of his hearing to the “those big guns”, had returned unscathed. He then spent the next 40 years building a company that drilled and blasted rock to build roads to mines and logging camps across much of Vancouver Island. He reasoned – how difficult could it be to catch a simple-minded gas thief?  Probably not all that difficult!

Before taking things into his own hands, Jack called me and asked if he would be within his right to try and catch these guys? I told him “certainly”, but that he could not use any more force than necessary if he was going to try and hold them for the police. As with the Colwood members, I warned him to take things cautiously and to keep a cool head.  I also read him the Criminal Code Section on the right to protect one’s home and property and as I knew Jack to be a level-headed fellow, I wasn’t worried he would fly off the handle and do something really stupid as in stories we sometimes read about.

I heard no more about it but later learned that Jack had gone about rigging up a rudimentary, but effective alarm system several meters above his gas storage area.  He ran a line from the device to the house and attached it to the doorbell. Jack hoped this would alert him to cars entering the driveway during late night hours.  Was he afraid of confronting the thieves? Not in the least.  Although he was getting on in age, his stocky, muscular build, deep voice and abundance of confidence would make a man half his age think twice about tackling this particular old guy.

A Thief Rings the bell

On this morning, after the doorbell sounded, Jack jumped out of bed in his night clothes, grabbed his shotgun and headed to his truck, a one-ton, 4-wheel drive, with a heavy steel grill and winch welded on the front. He slipped it in 4-wheel drive and sped 300 meters up the hill to his service area.  Although he had assured Ruth it would be OK, she had a bad feeling about Jack chasing some intruders with his shotgun even though Ruth knew Jack was an extremely peaceful man.

TR6As Jack rounded the corner into the service area, his headlights encased two young men standing at the back of a shiny TR6 with the hose from Jack’s gas tank stuck in cars filler. Jack never missed a beat as he dropped the truck into first gear, put the gas peddle to the floor and in less time that it took to whisper ‘Jack Sprat” he crossed the ten meters that separated him from that brand new sports car.

The two men jumped back as the heavy winch drilled into the driver’s door and seat. The truck barely flinched as it continued to push the sports car sideways across the gravel compound. On the far side, a large tree stopped the car from being propelled over the bank and down towards Brentwood Bay.  T-boned from both sides, the car was mangled mass of bent metal.

As the two men looked at the remnants of their TR6, Jack then reversed across the parking lot blocking the entrance and calmly climbed out.  The two twenty-something men stood frozen, gaping in disbelief as Jack climbed out. When they recovered from the initial shock, one man, the owner of the car, began hurling insults and threats at Jack who calmly stated in his deep, resonant voice, “Ok guys, you may as well settle down as I’m going to call the police and they can take it from here.”

The owner of the car started walking towards Jack screaming:  “You crazy son-of-a-bitch, you just wrecked my f…… car, you’re going to f…. pay big time. Now move out of the way you asshole.” The man continued towards Jack in a threatening manner.

As Jack backed away towards the open driver’s door of his truck, he reached inside and brought out a shinning twelve gauge pump action Remmington shotgun. As Jack calmly racked a shell, the young man again froze. Having just watched the old guy destroy his prized TR6, he seemed unsure as to what the guy might do next.

However, once again overcame his initial shock at seeing the gun, he again advanced in a threatening manner as he continued to swear. Jack calmly raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger.  The immediate flash and following blast from that 12 gauge reverberated throughout the valley causing the young man to drop to his knees in the gravel thinking he had just been shot.

The second man, who began backing away after Jack pulled out the gun, suddenly turned, bolted past the mangled sports car and disappeared over the bank leading down to Brentwood Bay. After the young man kneeling in the gravel recovered his bearings, Jack ordered him to stand up and start walking. While Jack had no intention of shooting anyone, he stated he just fired the gun over their heads to get their attention.  That he did.

As he started walking towards the house the young man was still uttering expletives and at one point stopped and said to Jack, “fuck-off old man, I’m not going any further.” To regain man’s attention, Jack racked another round and lifted the gun. The man then kept walking. At the house Jack made him sit on the porch and covered him with the shotgun while Ruth was standing at the door.

She told Jack she had already called the police when she heard the shot and had told them her husband might need some help as he had gone to catch some gas thieves and that she had just heard a shot. Not more than 10 minutes later the sound of sirens could be heard in the distance and shortly after two patrol cars and a dog master made their way down the winding driveway. When they passed a point near the entry to the service area, the doorbell rang three more times. It seems that adding Ruth adding a report of “shots fired” to her call about someone stealing gas caused the call to be prioritized at a higher level.

Everyone goes to Jail

As the young man sitting on the porch continued to complain about Jack and his shotgun, Jack was ordered to put down the gun as the young man was placed in handcuffs and taken to one of the patrol car. After Jack explained how he had managed to capture one of the thieving bastards, but the other one had escaped, the police now faced a dilemma. They could not be at all certain, even after Jack’s quiet assurances that he “hadn’t shot anyone, just put a scare into them.”, that the second man was OK. They had no choice but to take Jack into custody until the other man was found.

They immediately put out an APB (All Points Bulletin) based on Jack’s sketchy description and, as well, the Dog Master was dispatched to see if he could pick up the trail of the missing man. Of course with a 150 drop to Brentwood Bay and heavy going in the dark, that was pretty much mission impossible. The police were left with no recourse, so took Jack back to the Detachment Office while other officers who arrive sealed off the scene and began a search for the missing man.

It was not until late morning that the second men, who had now been identified by his partner in crime, was located at his home in Colwood. While the man was badly scratched and bruised from having scrambled through the heavy undergrowth as he made his way back to the Trans Canada Highway he was otherwise unharmed.

After he was taken into custody he told police he had been on the highway by 7:00 am and had seen a few police cars as he was hitching a ride back to Colwood. After the second man was located unharmed, Jack was released pending further investigation.

The two thieves were later charged with Theft Under $1000, and released on a Promise to Appear at some later date.  At trial, they claimed to have run out of gas while driving up the Malahat Drive and had coasted down into Jack’s driveway in their search for some fuel.  By chance, they came upon Jack’s service and fuel storage area and intended to only “borrow” enough gas to get to a service station. The whole thing was just a big mistake and they fully intended to return later and pay for the gas.

The Judge did not buy the explanation and convicted both men, then sentenced them to three months probation. Jack was not charged with any offence as the police obviously concluded that while the force he used was significant, it was no more than necessary to protect himself and to hold the one suspect until the police arrived to take him into custody. Perhaps they also rightly understood that a charge against Jack would be unlikely to succeed as he had long been complaining about people stealing his gas and the two men certainly presented some danger after they were confronted. Individuals such as Jack have a right to protect their themselves and their property as long as the force used is not excessive in the circumstance (see notes in the footer).

As for the damage to the TR6, as the incident happened wholly on private property, Jack never heard anything more about the matter. It seems certain the insurance company would not pay any damage claim as the TR6 was being used to commit a criminal office at the time it was demolished.

Following this episode, Jack and Ruth never experienced any more theft of gas. If others were involved besides the two Jack caught, it seems word spread that Jack’s gas tank was probably not a good bet for a little ‘free’ gas.

Harold McNeill
Victoria, November 2005

Citizens Arrest

Over the years media outlets often report on Citizen Arrests including a few where serious injury was caused to either to the person suspected of having committed a crime or to someone attempting to affect an arrest.  Often there is considerable controversy when a citizen who has effected a ‘citizens arrest’ has been taken to task for using excessive force, perhaps even charged assault or some other serious Criminal Office offence such as Criminal Negligence.  The Criminal Code is pretty clear on when a citizen can effect an arrest:

Section 494 of the Criminal Code:

(1) ARREST WITHOUT WARRANT BY ANY PERSON
Any one may arrest without warrant
(a) a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or
(b) a person who, on reasonable grounds, he believes
• (i) has committed a criminal offence, and
• (ii) is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person

(2) ARREST BY OWNER OF A PROPERTY
Anyone who is
(a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or
(b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

(3) DELIVERY TO PEACE OFFICER
Any one other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver the person to a peace officer.

The powers contained in this section are not much different from that afforded to police officers, however police officers are also allowed to arrest any person they have reasonable and probably grounds to believe has committed a criminal offence.

Recent Cases of Interest in Canada:

May 2009    Toronto, Ontario

Many will have read the story of the travails of Toronto Grocery Store owner, David Chen, and two employees who were charged with assault and unlawful confinement. The case arose after Mr. Chen and his workmates chased down and hog-tied a drug user who had been a ‘regular’ shoplifter at their store.

David ChenPolice, who took more than an hour to attend following the initial call, took custody of a suspect they found tied up in the back of a panel truck.

They decided, apparently on the advice of counsel, that it would be in the public interest to charge Mr. Chen and his workmates.

The case became a cause célèbre in the Chinese community (and for many others across Canada) as the storekeepers in this particular area had been fighting a losing battle against shoplifters. The Police seemed incapable of dealing with the epidemic in part because calls of “higher priority” took precedence. Shoplifting complaints to stagnate on the call load for several hours.  In this case, it turned out the store owner and his employees were not in fresh pursuit of a shoplifter. Sometime during the day they had observed him steal an item from the store but had lost him in the crowds.  About an hour later they saw him return and this time was able to chase him down and tie him up for the police.

The key element in the Chen charge was Section 294 (1)(b)(ii).  The Judge took the broad view that the offence was continuing and gave the three accused the benefit of any doubt.  They were acquitted.

The Judge could just as easily have held the one-hour time lapse between the original shoplifting and return of the culprit to get more ‘flowers’ could have precluded the protection afforded by Section (1)(b)(ii).

Ian ThompsonJanuary 21, 2011   Pt. Corbourn, Ontario

The lead story in the National Post reported a homeowner, Ian Thompson, was charged with a Criminal Offence while protecting his home from attack.  It was reported that Thompson fired a handgun to chase away the masked attackers who were throwing firebombs at his property.  See the full story at:

http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/01/20/man-faces-jail-after-protecting-home-from-masked-attackers/

March 2010  Medicine Hat, Alberta

There was a further interesting case of an Alberta man, Brian Russell Knight and his friends, who chased down three suspects who had stolen an ATV from the man’s rural property.

Brian KnightSometime during the chase, and while one of the theft suspects was attempting to flee on foot, shots were fired and the suspect was hit.

Police were eventually called and three men were charged with stealing the ATV and the property owner was charged with Criminal Negligence and a variety of other charges.  The property owner eventually pleads guilty to Criminal Negligence.

This case is not a good precedent in support of a “Citizen’s Right” to make an arrest or to detain a person as provided in the Criminal Code. The circumstances suggest excessive force was used and might be better described as vigilante justice rather than a reasonable citizen trying to protect his property. Even a police officer would likely have been charged had they shot and injured a person under similar circumstances.

Conclusions

The first two cases, that of David Chen along with his associates, as well as that of Ian Thompson seem to have been an abuse of police and prosecutorial power, but not that of the man in the Medicine Hat man, Brian Knight.  Knight clearly crossed a line in which even a police officer would likely be charged for having shot an individual under the circumstances in the case.

hdmc

Epilogue

Lynn and I had met Jack and Ruth in the mid-1980s through a chance phone call Jack had made to the Brentwood Bay Marina where Lynn and I, along with our family, were fishing trip Ruth and Jack Startwith Lynn’s brother Barrie and his family. Jack was looking for someone to help can some salmon and as the Marina Operator did know anyone, I asked if I might speak to the man. I introduced myself and said that my wife and I enjoyed canning salmon and, perhaps, we could help.

That call was the beginning of a long friendship with this “salt of the earth” couple. To understand a bit about the personalities you need only view the ‘master bedroom’ of their home. As noted in the story, the house sat on a rock bluff facing south overlooking Brentwood Bay. The bedroom was about 15 X 20 feet and the unique feature – it had no wall on the bay view side.

Year-round when Jack and Ruth retired for the evening, they did do so in the great outdoors. They had a roof over their head to keep dry, but beyond that, the bedroom was open to the elements. When those heavy winds blew, as they often did down Brentwood Bay, Ruth would sweep out the leaves and twigs in the morning. She and Jack always enjoyed the fresh, salt air of the bay.

Over the years, we periodically visited Jack and Ruth and continued to can salmon well into the late 1990s. Ruth’s sight continued to fail until she was totally blind but Jack was always there to help ease her way. They finally sold their Brentwood home and moved to Broadmead not far from where Lynn and I live.  Then, one day a few years back, we met Jack at the Broadmead Shopping Centre and learned his wife of more than fifty years had passed away.  With softness in his gruff, gravelly voice and a caring smile on his face, he talked about Ruth. As he did, tears formed in his eyes in remembrance of Ruth and those bygone days. He was and is an honest, caring man who adds immensely to the value of our world.

Jack then related a story of his latest encounter with the police.  After Jack had completed the sale of his million dollars plus home and property, he was visited by members of the RCMP Special Squad (not known which squad). The RCMP were interested in the background of the purchase as it was likely made by way of a large amount of cash. Jack never heard anything further.   Further to this Jack was sad that his very nice home was demolished and several trees cut down to make way for some modern structure that Jack felt detracted from the natural beauty of the property.

October 30, 2010

As Lynn and I have been away a fair amount over the past several years we had not talked Jack.  I gave him a call this past Saturday and then biked over for a coffee. He is now 88 and in a relationship, but still speaks with great fondness of Ruth. He is still the same lively character we knew back in the 1980s.  He chuckles when talking about catching those ‘thieving bastards’. I have no doubt that today, at 88, he would take the same action if the circumstances warranted.  When writing this story he just wanted to make sure I understood he would never have hurt these guys although he “did not mind busting up their little car.” He chuckled and we finished our coffee.

hdmc

 

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Comments

  • McNeill Life Stories How to Game an Election - McNeill Life Stories

    September 18, 2019 |

    […] The Federal Conservatives and Seymour Riding Association complied but one day later those memes will be shared by every third party social media site and by thousands of supporters where the message will be taken as a statements of the fact.  Five years from now those memes will still be circulating. (Link here to background on the SNC Lavalin matter) […]

  • Harold McNeill

    August 21, 2019 |

    For those who followed the earlier post about the cost of ICBC Auto insurance coverage in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (linked in comments) here is another follow-up article.

    This article again confirms earlier assertions that public-private insurers such as that which ICBC provides, is among the best in Canada in terms of rates and coverage. A link is provided in the original story.

  • Harold McNeill

    August 16, 2019 |

    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

    August 15, 2019 |

    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

  • Harold McNeill

    August 13, 2019 |

    August 13, 2019. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a private enterprise group not unlike the Fraser Institute, is again on the campaign trail. They state ICBC rates are the highest in Canada, but, thankfully, Global BC inserted a section indicating the Insurance Bureau cherry-picked the highest number in BC and the lowest numbers in AB, ON and other Eastern Provinces. If you take a few minutes to check reliable sources you will find BC rates, are the lowest in Canada.

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold