A Change Thief Steals a Neighborhood’s Peace of Mind

A thief stealing change and small items from unlocked cars turns me against my neighbors.

There’s nothing like small-time theft to really bring out the mistrust in yourself and your neighbors. That’s the lesson I learned when someone stole an iPod and loose change from my neighbors’ unlocked cars.

The backstabbing started after two across-the-street neighbors realized they’d each had the change stolen out of their truck ashtrays. One, a contractor, had some pretty expensive tools in his truck, which the thief ignored. The police came, took a report, and dusted for fingerprints.

Our neighborhood email chain fired up immediately. The emails started out nicely. (I’ve altered the names here so everyone will still speak to me after this blog post runs.)


Larry’s truck and our truck were broken into. In both cases, just small amounts of money were taken, nothing else. The police asked that we notify the neighborhood; and if anything happened to you, or you saw anything suspicious, email me and I’ll give you the officer’s name and phone number.


I figured the change thief was among the hoards of tree-cutters and clean-up workers who came into our neighborhood after a recent storm, until the next email came from the mother of teenage boys:


Jane — Did the officer indicate other neighborhoods had experienced similar situations? Because if we’re the only one, it probably is a home-grown problem.

Can everyone on this email please talk to their teens, pre-teens, and their neighbor’s teens about who was out last night, and what they were doing? Hopefully we can make this issue “disappear” with a few conversations.

Thanks again for sharing the information —

That email had me picturing other people’s children as the change thief. I’d mentally convicted a few of them, but various emails proved me wrong.

Our children have been at the beach since last Sunday, returning this afternoon.

Followed by more denials and reports.


I have spoken to my teens (one of whom wasn’t in the area last night and the other who was with me in D.C. last night). They haven’t noticed any strangers or strange behavior during the past few days. They have, however, noticed more strangers both driving and walking through our neighborhood this summer. I have done my best to instill in them the importance of reporting strangers, or strange activity, in addition to keeping our house and vehicles locked up at all times. It’s too bad our neighborhood is now subjected to these random acts of crime. The tough economy, coupled with the array of development and increased traffic in our area, has likely added to it. 

Take care,


Apparently the Smiths on the corner were broken into also.

I know the Smiths pretty well. My teenage daughter pet-sits for them.

And third report just a few minutes later:

Same thing happened to us last night, opened unlocked car, and stole loose change and an iPod.

I know Cathy pretty well. My teenage daughter pet-sits for them. Oh. My. God. That’s when I realized my child was the change thief.

I confronted her. “You’re the change thief, aren’t you?” I asked. “It’s all your pet-sitting clients!”

She responded with an eyeroll that all parents of teens know indicates disdain and revulsion. “Mom, you know I hate change. It’s dirty. And if I were stealing change, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to take it all. I’d just take the quarters so no one would know.”

She did have a point. That change-phobia detail had kind of slipped my mind. And really, what are the odds that a kid who won’t let her friends keep the change from their lunch money on the school cafeteria table and won’t walk anywhere in the dark alone even with a flashlight would be collecting change from cars at night on a street with no street lamps?

My maternal psychotic breakdown ended a few minutes later when a final email arrived with information about a neighborhood a couple of miles away:

Hi guys,
My son is doing yard work for a family who lives on a street off Level Road (Meadow-something) and was told that they had had break-ins there. There have apparently been break-ins on Pindell too.

Dang. Guess the change thief lives over there.

Have you and neighbors pointed fingers? Did it lead to tension? How did it resolve?