Uninformed Comment

The time I confronted a burglar

Posted in Crime and the Law, Personal, Reminiscences and anecdotes by uninformedcomment on October 1, 2010

Scene of the crime

Several years ago, while my children were still young, I confronted and stopped – but did not catch – a burglar. Since that’s the kind of anecdote one ends up telling quite a lot – it makes me look good for a change, after all – I’ll relate it here.

My then wife, our kids and I were staying in the apartment block in these pictures, which is in Majorca (Mallorca) in the Spanish Balearic islands. More specifically, we were in the apartment whose balcony is on the very top right of the above photograph. Less specifically, I won’t say anything more detailed about the apartment since I wish it well. I liked the place, and burglars are, I’m given to understand, something of a rarity there.

What I will say, however, is that we were there for the second time, and that the whole block – 13 apartments –  is rented to British holidaymakers such as ourselves. It is, to as Rupert Brooke put it, some corner of a foreign field that is forever England (although I’m fairly sure  Brooke was talking about somewhere else).

So, what happened?

Well, one day, in the early afternoon, we’d returned there for lunch and were all sitting on the apartment balcony digesting.  Most of the other occupants were out doing touristy things involving beaches and beer, although a few were sitting around the pool doing the latter without the aid of sand.

Bar area

Water, in square holes, for bodily immersions

While we were sitting there, chatting, the door to our apartment opened and in walked a tall young man in his 20s, who immediately apologised in English, saying that he was the manager and that he’d got the wrong room. Sorry, he said, backing out.

Something wasn’t right. If he was the manager, then why did he go to the wrong room? I mean, the place isn’t a labyrinth, and ours was in a pretty distinctive position on the end of the top floor. Besides, although I hadn’t met the manager, I’d kind of assumed that he was a good deal older than this guy. However, all I knew for sure about the manager was his name, Juan P______r, which appeared on various signs around the building.

Nevertheless, I felt suspicious and so I stood up and followed the guy out of the door. He was starting to walk down the stairs, and I followed, casually, as if I were on my way down to the pool. Seeing me, he stopped, turned and smiled and asked if I was enjoying my holiday. I looked at him more closely – he was wearing a short-sleeved buttoned shirt, swimming trunks and flip-flops, with no obviously apparent hiding places, and carrying nothing but a bunch of keys.

Yes, I was enjoying myself, thank you. My mind was racing. If this guy was up to no good, how could I find out? We chatted – he was Spanish, but his English was exceptionally good – and I asked him if he was Juan P______r. He looked confused: who? I repeated the name. He didn’t seem to recognise it. OK, so maybe my Spanish pronunciation wasn’t perfect, but it’s not a hard name to pronounce. Then he seemed to understand and said yes, his name was Juan P______r. Hmm.

How long had he worked here, I asked? About six months, he said. Another alarm bell – we’d stayed here a year earlier, and the manager’s name had been the same then. Or maybe he’d been a sub-manager or something then … but hang on, I’m sure Juan P______r is the owner, not the manager. As you can imagine, I was thinking as hard as one can think after a couple of beers in a Mediterranean afternoon, and coming up with no definite plan of action or inaction. At the top of my mind was that the guy could be dangerous. He was younger than me, looked fitter than me, and for all I know could have been carrying a knife or something in a hidden pocket.

We chatted some more – he told me he’d worked as a baggage handler at Manchester Airport, which explained his excellent English. After a short while, the guy excused himself, said he had to go, and carried on down the stairs. I followed him. At the bottom of the stairs, he walked out of the rear exit onto the street behind. I saw him walking very quickly along the street, glancing over his shoulder. Suspicious as hell, sure, but still not conclusive.

I’ve mentioned there were a few other people by the poolside, on the other side of the building. I knew that some of them, who were long-time regulars here, would have met Juan P______r. I sprinted round the building to the pool, and asked breathlessly: “how old is Juan P______r?”. Puzzled looks. “It’s important – roughly how old is he? Young? Old? Middle aged?” Oh, said one of them, he’s in his sixties, I would guess.

“We’ve had an intruder, then” I said, and explained what had happened. They rushed off to their rooms to inspect, and phone calls were made, including to the Guardia (the Spanish police), and things started to happen.

Nearby larger water area and sandy accretions

Gradually we pieced together the facts. The guy, probably with an accomplice at ground level to whom he could drop things, had already gained entry to the other four apartments on the top floor, and was presumably entering ours as part of a systematic visit to every one. In other words, he’d done four but, because I’d stopped him, missed the other nine.

The people in the four apartments he’d visited had lost cash, travellers’ cheques and bank cards totalling several thousands pounds, but nothing of any physical size – for example, a video camera that had been left on plain view – had been touched. This fitted with the theory that, after each room, he’d dropped his takings to his accomplice below, and explained why he appeared to be carrying nothing but keys when I saw him. The travellers’ cheques, it turned out, had been cashed, and credit cards used to obtain goods from several shops and money from banks.

I was interviewed by the Guardia, but they can’t have got much in the way of useful information, since their English was very poor (presumably, they’d not been baggage handlers in Manchester), and my Spanish vanishingly tiny and confined to food items and beer.


Chairs and tables for the non-immersed

The oddest thing about this, from an entirely personal point of view, was that somehow I became a kind of temporary hero among the other apartment-dwellers. This is not a position I often find myself in, to put it mildly – I’m normally the quiet guy sitting and reading over in the corner – and it was quite unexpected. The people whose apartments hadn’t been touched were especially grateful. And I found myself saying what normally is said by other people – anyone would have done the same.

And, inevitably, for a long time afterwards I had thoughts of “what-if” – what if I’d apprehended him? What if I’d shouted for help immediately? What if I’d followed him? Are there citizen’s arrests in Spain? What’s it like to be knifed? And when these thoughts came, I’d just tell myself that I did the right thing, no more and no less. I think that’s true.

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