Posted by: wrmcnutt | April 9, 2009

Anatomy of A Robbery

Friends and family, please note:  this article was written shortly after my last robbery.  I’ve not been successfully robbed since Christmas Day, two years ago.)

I’ve been robbed.  Again.

I maintain a woodworking shop in a frame house next to my elderly father’s residence.  It was once a one-bedroom “clerk’s house” in a working-class neighborhood in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Briefly, my Dad, in his mid-70’s, lives next door.  When he first retired, Dad went into the house renovation business with an eye to becoming a landlord.  One of the first buildings he purchased, he bought with an eye toward using it as a storage building for all of our tools, equipment, and some materials.  It was condemned when he bought it, so he didn’t hesitate to strip out the entire interior down to the studs.  What remains are three rooms: one large, two small, and the bathroom.  The original front and back doorways are still in use.  I have two interior doors separating the “work area” from the rest of the building, mostly to keep the heat in during the winter months, the “work area” being the only insulated part of the house.

The windows on three sides of the building were boarded up, mostly to keep out the weather, but also to keep out squatters.  The remaining side of the house was the only one with intact windows, and those were over 10’ from the ground, so they were left unboarded. Unfortunately, when I boarded it up, I was only thinking about keeping the weather out, not amateur socialists, so I used the cheapest luan that I could find, and put it on with 1” drywall screws.  The front door was either original to the house, or a very old replacement.  It was a frame-and-panel door with a large glass insert in the upper half and three pine panels in the lower half.  The glass was long gone, and had been replaced with a piece of chipboard or wafer board that had been tacked on to the inside using roofing nails.  The whole assembly was then painted.  In addition to the original doorknob, we had added a deadbolt and an exterior hasp with a lightweight padlock.  The padlock was really only there to provide a physiological deterrent, as it was visible from the street.  So a casual thief could tell that the building was “secured,” and would look elsewhere for an easy mark.  The back door had been replaced.  It was a pre-hung steel foamcore door in a white pine frame, typical of anything you might buy at a home center.  In addition, we bolted a heavy-duty hasp to the wall studs and put a padlock on it.

The bad guys tried the back door first.  They forced a prybar in parallel to the door, and pressed down, forcing the door open despite the deadbolt and spring lock.  If you’re able to destroy the doorframe, deadbolts are irrelevant. Either the padlock stopped them, or the 400 lbs of junk I had piled against the door dissuaded them.  Unfortunately, remember that luan I used to board up the doors? And the little bitty screws?  The same prybar ripped the heads of those screws right out of the luan and permitted ingress.  From there they went to the front door, opened my deadbolt from the inside, and then used a tire iron to twist the light-weight hasp off of the front door from the outside.  I lost all of my hand-held power tools, my chop box, my bench grinder, my benchtop power planer, my hollow-chisel motiser, all of my drill bits, and a host of other easy-to-pile-into-your-car items.  They piled about $5000 worth of tools and equipment into a car and vanished.  Neither they, nor my equipment were ever seen again.  It was either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  (In fact, I lost a very expensive hand adze my dad had gotten for me that Christmas.  I’d owned it less than a day.)

This is not the first time I’ve been robbed.  One mistake I’ve made has been to think that “Ok, I’ve been robbed.  Now it’s over, and I can get on with my life.”  Thieves are like cockroaches.  As long as you feed them, they’ll come back.  So this time, I’m forting up.  In the following series of articles, I intend to share with you my thoughts and practices regarding shop security.  We will talk a little about psychology, deterrence, as well as physical security.   I am not a security expert, although I am consulting some in the process of “forting up.”

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  1. […] first we have me.  For the uninitiated, my woodworking shop has been robbed five times. My father and I together are out approximately twenty thousand dollars in tools, all together.  […]

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