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7 Epic Toy Heists

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While the majority of robberies center around cash or expensive jewels, not all thieves have a taste for boring currency. Some like to keep it fun by ripping off every valuable toy in sight. Take a look at seven of the most audacious thefts that were sheer child’s play.

1. THE BEANIE BABY BANDIT

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Beanie mania gripped the nation in the 1990s, causing otherwise sensible individuals to pay hundreds of dollars for stuffed penguins. While some small-time operators got away with just a few hundred of the plush animals, it was Ben Perri of Glendale Heights, Illinois who was thought to have made the big score.

According to the Associated Press, the 77-year-old was arrested in 1997 for possession of over 1247 Beanies of the 6000 total that were reported missing from manufacturer Ty Inc.’s warehouse in Westmont. (A private detective hired by Ty tracked Perri to his Beanie-stocked storage lockers, then tipped off authorities.) Among those seized by cops: Bubbles, Digger, and Radar, some of which were “retired” toys that fetched more than $1000 each.

Perri, however, was acquitted in a trial after police failed to find evidence that he knew the Beanies in his possession had been stolen from Ty. (Perri claimed to have bought them at a flea market.) The collector later had to spar with police over retaining Beanie custody of the toys. "As far as we know, this is still stolen merchandise," Deputy Police Chief Jim Linane told the Chicago Tribune. "We need proof of ownership, and Mr. Perri has never proven ownership." Perri countered with "Nobody gives you receipts at the flea market. I've got a lot of money invested in those Beanies. Hard-earned money. I'm very disappointed." Ultimately, Ty and Perri agreed to a local radio station’s offer of a Christmas sale to raise money for needy children. The Chicago Tribune estimated that the haul would yield over $80,000 for charity.

2. THE BLACK MARKET LEGO BRICKS

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According to a 2014 Arizona Republic story, Peoria realtor Troy Koehler and co-conspirators were arrested when investigators traced a series of LEGO set robberies to Koehler’s home. After tracking the movements of multiple thieves who would remove the security devices from expensive kits, police found that Koehler had a garage and three storage units full of black-market bricks totaling $200,000. Allegedly, Koehler would take the damaged shoplifted LEGO back to the store and exchange it for a brand new box that he would sell online for a profit. Koehler was charged with second-degree trafficking in stolen property and received a suspension of prosecution in July 2016 providing he stays out of trouble. 

3. THE HESS TRUCK HEIST

Hess

From 1964 to 2014, the Hess Corporation issued a commemorative toy truck every holiday season that was sold at gas stations (since selling their gas stations in 2014, the toys have been sold online and in select stores). The trucks became popular among collectors, with the limited runs sometimes failing to meet demand. During its 50th anniversary in 2014, two men were arrested on charges of making off with nearly $11,000 worth of the 2012 trucks in Carlstadt, New Jersey. According to the New Jersey Record, suspect Miguel Centino and an accomplice, Rodolfo Chavarria, took cases containing 360 haulers off a stolen trailer and placed the cases in their vehicles. Centino was charged with one count of theft of moveable property and released on a summons; Chavarria and two other conspirators were charged with one count of receiving stolen property and were also released on summonses.

4. THE HOLE IN THE WALL GANG

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An independent toy store in Hobart, Australia was victimized in 2014 when thieves managed to tunnel a hole in the wall of the building, making off with $7000 worth of remote-controlled helicopters and train sets. Owner Samm Harrington told local media that he had obtained surveillance footage of a suspicious man who appeared to be casing the place days prior. The possible thief returned the day after his initial visit and bought a $2 Hot Wheels car “so he didn’t get totally sussed out,” Harrington said.

5. THE TOY CARJACKING

Tony Cresclbene via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1997, three girls under the age of 10 in Bar Harbor, Maine were accused of stealing a toy Jeep from a garage in their neighborhood. To cover their tracks, the girls repainted the red Power Wheels vehicle all black and removed all the decals, telling their parents they had found the $500 item in a trash pile. When the parents of the girl with the missing Jeep posted fliers about the theft, four of the parents chopped the car into pieces in an attempt to destroy the evidence. When the cover up was exposed, a judge ordered them each to pay a $254 fine in addition to restitution.

6. THE REWARD SYSTEM THIEF

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According to a 2012 Sun-Sentinel story, Fort Lauderdale resident Michael Pollara might be one of the most prolific thieves to ever set foot in a Toys ‘R Us. For 10 years, Pollara canvassed the country, dropping in on TRU locations and perpetuating what authorities referred to as a “box stuffing” scheme: He would locate a large box with a low price, empty its cheaper contents, then fill it up with smaller and more expensive items to sell online. The system was so lucrative it’s estimated Pollara made over a million dollars in one year alone. His downfall? Being preoccupied with the perks of his TRU Rewards Card. Law enforcement officials were able to track his movements in 139 stores across 27 states because he insisted on using it during his illegal transactions. Pollara served two years for the spree.

7. CAUGHT-ON-FIRE BARBIE

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Barbie, that impossibly-proportioned icon of toy shelves, was the target of a 1992 heist valued at over $1 million. According to the Los Angeles Times, collector Glen Offield was at a doll collector show when a thief entered and procured 5000 prized Barbies from his bedroom. To disguise the heist, he (or she) then set the property on fire; officials grew wise when they failed to find any immolated Barbie torsos among the ruins. Offield’s collection contained over 200 rare prototypes, as well as prized Ken and Skipper dolls. Authorities recovered the dolls from a storage later just weeks later. Neither Barbie nor her Corvettes were harmed.

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8 Arresting Facts About Scotland Yard
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Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Depicted in fiction for well over a century as the world's premier police force, Scotland Yard might be the most famous banner for law enforcement in history. Though the name itself is officially a term for the location of the London Metropolitan Police headquarters, it’s taken on a colloquial use to describe the collective brain trust of that station’s patrolmen and detectives. Here’s what we’ve deduced about the past, present, and future of this historic—and sometimes controversial—institution.

1. IT GOT ITS NAME FROM A TRICKY BIT OF GEOGRAPHY.

London didn’t have a formal police force until 1829, when Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel arranged for a squad to replace the fractured system of watchmen, street patrols, and the River Police. Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne were tasked with organizing the force: Mayne’s house at 4 Whitehall Place opened to an adjacent courtyard that had once been a medieval palace that hosted Scottish royalty while they were in London. This “Great Scotland Yard,” which was also reportedly the name of the street behind the building, became synonymous with Rowan and Mayne’s efforts to create a new era in law enforcement.

2. CHARLES DICKENS TAGGED ALONG ON PATROLS.

Author Charles Dickens poses for a photo
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The renowned author of Great Expectations and other literary classics wasn’t a policeman, but he did perform the 19th-century equivalent of a ride-along. Dickens was friends with Charles Frederick Field, a Scotland Yard inspector, and their relationship led to Dickens occasionally accompanying patrolmen on their nightly rounds. He even based a character in his novel Bleak House on Fields.

3. THERE WERE DIRTY COPS AMONG THE RANKS IN THOSE EARLY DAYS.

For all of the public acceptance of Scotland Yard—Londoners were initially wary of the plainclothes cops walking among them—the squad suffered a sensational blow to its image in 1877. Known as the “Turf Fraud Scandal” or the “Trial of the Detectives,” the controversy erupted after a Parisian socialite named Madame de Goncourt was conned by two men named Harry Benson and William Kurr. Scotland Yard inspector Nathaniel Druscovich was dispatched to Amsterdam to capture a fleeing Benson while others pursued Kurr. The men proved surprisingly elusive, which prompted suspicion among Scotland Yard officials. When the two con men were finally arrested, they explained that an inspector named John Meiklejohn was taking bribes in exchange for tipping off Kurr to police activity. Two other policemen were implicated; the three each received two years in prison. The high-profile breach led to a reorganization, with the Yard inserting detectives into a new Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to help minimize misconduct.

4. THEY HELPED PIONEER FINGERPRINTING.

A Scotland Yard employee examines fingerprints
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At one time, the science of fingerprinting was more of a theory than anything that could be put into practice. Most police forces instead relied on anthropometry, a system created by French police officer Alphonse Bertillon, which used 11 body measurements taken by calipers to provide a unique physical identity for an individual. While fingerprinting was beginning to take off in India in the late 1800s, the English-speaking world didn’t adopt the forensic technique of lifting and matching prints until 1901, when Sir Edward Henry, then the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, instituted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau. In 1902, a billiard ball thief was convicted based on a fingerprint he left on a windowsill. In 1904, a Yard detective demonstrated the efficacy of fingerprinting at the St. Louis World’s Fair, helping spread the new science to American law enforcement officials.

5. THEIR PATROL OFFICERS DIDN’T CARRY GUNS UNTIL 1994.

The uniformed police officers who wander London’s streets with an eye on keeping the peace were unarmed for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1994 that select patrol officers were permitted to carry guns, a policy shift that stemmed from increased assaults on police. The addition of firearms was limited to armed response cars intended to be dispatched to high-risk calls; previously, officers were instructed to keep their weapons in a lockbox inside their vehicles. Today, 90 percent of Metropolitan police officers go on duty without a gun, a policy largely maintained in response to a relatively low number of guns carried by civilians. Less than four in 100 British citizens own a firearm.

6. THEY HAVE A SQUAD OF “SUPER RECOGNIZERS.”

A surveillance camera is posted in London
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With surveillance cameras dotting London, facial recognition for identifying criminal suspects is in high demand. But no software can outperform Scotland Yard’s team of “super recognizers,” who are recruited for their ability to match a face to a name based on their own memory. These officers are hired by administering a facial recognition test first implemented by Harvard in 2009. Those in the top percentile have an uncanny ability to retain facial feature details and are often dispatched to cull out known criminals like pickpockets at public gatherings. One such specialist, Constable Gary Collins, identified 180 people out of 4000 while examining footage of the 2011 London riots. Software was able to identify exactly one.

7. THEY KEEP A SECRET CRIME MUSEUM HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC.

Housed across two floors at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in London is the Black Museum, a macabre cavalcade of evidence from nearly 150 years of investigative work. Established in 1875, the collection houses body parts (gallstones that failed to dissolve in acid along with the rest of a murder victim) and seemingly innocuous items that take on sinister connotations: A set of pots and pans that once belonged to Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen and were used to boil human flesh. It’s closed to the public, though visiting law enforcement and sometimes celebrities can secure an invite: Laurel and Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have toured its inventory. A sample of the collection went on display at the Museum of London in 2015.  

8. YOU COULD LIVE THERE ONE DAY.

The former New Scotland Yard building at 10 Broadway
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The Metropolitan Police have changed locations several times over the years. It was situated at its original location of 4 Whitehall Place from 1829 to 1890, then housed in a large Victorian building on the Victoria Embankment from 1890 until 1967. That’s when the operation was moved to a 600,000 square-foot building at 10 Broadway in Westminster: a famous revolving sign announced a New Scotland Yard was taking up residence. In 2014, the building was sold to investors from Abu Dhabi for $580 million: London cited operating expenses and budget cuts as the reasons for the sale. The buyers plan to mount a residential housing project in the spot. Scotland Yard staff moved to a trimmed-down facility at the Curtis Green Building in Westminster and within walking distance of the Houses of Parliament.   

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Why an Ex-FBI Agent Recommends Wrapping Your Keys in Tinfoil Whenever You Leave Your Car
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A car thief doesn't need to get their hands on your keys to break into your vehicle. If you use a wireless, keyless system, or fob, to unlock your car, all they need to do is steal the signal it emits. Luckily there's a tool you can use to protect your fob from hackers that you may already have in your kitchen at home: tinfoil.

Speaking with USA Today, retired FBI agent Holly Hubert said that wrapping car fobs in a layer of foil is the cheapest way to block their sensitive information from anyone who may be trying to access it. Hackers can easily infiltrate your car by using a device to amplify the fob signal or by copying the code it uses. And they don't even need to be in the same room as you to do it: They can hack the fob inside your pocket from the street outside your house or office.

Electronic car theft is a growing problem for automobile manufacturers. Ideally fobs made in the future will come with cyber protection built-in, but until then the best way to keep your car safe is to carry your fob in an electromagnetic field-blocking shield when you go out. Bags made specifically to protect your key fob work better than foil, but they can cost more than $50. If tinfoil is all you can afford, it's better than nothing.

At home, make sure to store your keys in a spot where they will continue to get protection. Dropping them in a metal coffee can is a lot smarter than leaving them out in the open on your kitchen counter.

[h/t USA Today]

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