A Car Thief, a Purse, a Backpack, Google Assistant, and Security Cameras

Stolen backpack, boze headphones purse notebook.
The Subject of This Story

Last week I was on one of my dog walks and as I got close to home, I noticed a backpack on the median in front of the sidewalk across from my house. In our neighborhood, anything sitting on that little strip of grass on the outside of the sidewalk essentially has an invisible sign on it saying “Free – take me”.

As I got closer I realized it was a really nice Tumi backpack. I don’t know if you’ve ever shopped Tumi, but their backpacks are typically well outside of my price range at around $5-600! It was pretty clear to me that no one in their right mind would just throw away a bag like that, so I rescued it with the intention of trying to find the owner.

I remembered that before I left the house to go on my walk, there was a worker’s truck in front of the house where I found the backpack. I remember the worker had his door open onto that grassy median doing some stuff and I figured he probably forgot the backpack when he drove away.

I opened the backpack and found a little notebook with a gentleman’s business card taped into the front cover. I called the number on the card and left a voicemail for him explaining that I’d seen him earlier and assumed he’d just forgotten the bag. I told him where I lived and gave him my phone number so he could contact me when he got the message.

Then I started digging around more inside the bag and made a very surprising discovery. Stuffed inside this very fancy, classy masculine backpack was a woman’s leather purse. It was clearly stolen. And I just called the thief and told them where I live and my phone number.


After confessing to Steve what I’d just done, I made a quick pivot on the situation and called our local police department. I highly recommend recording the non-emergency phone number for your local police in your contacts as it can come in quite handy for just this kind of situation. I was assured by dispatch that an officer would be coming out to our house but they were on a shift change so it might be a bit before they showed up.

At this point, Steve and I were both a bit nervous about the call I’d made, and decided we wouldn’t answer the door unless it was the police officer. Steve closed the front curtains and we stayed away from the door.

While we were waiting, I did some more digging. I found in the backpack a receipt for a rental car at the Los Angeles airport and a parking stub for a lot at Chicago’s airport and a rental car receipt. I found a second business card with the same name. On both business cards, he was shown as the CFO of two different companies outside of Chicago.

Then in kind of a hidden but large pocket, I found a set of $400 Bose over-the-ear headphones. Putting all of this together – very expensive backpack, very expensive headphones, business cards as a CFO in another state and receipts for parking and a rental car – I was pretty sure this wasn’t left behind by the person working out of their truck and I was also confident it wasn’t the thief of the woman’s purse. A thief had stolen both the Tumi backpack and the woman’s purse. I was relieved because that meant I hadn’t given the thief my phone number and address!

It was time to dig into the woman’s purse, and I was quite surprised to find her wallet. Her driver’s license and all of her credit and other cards were still there. Her address on her driver’s license was not too far away from us so we began a sleuthing exercise to try to find her phone number online.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do a reverse lookup online, but it can be challenging. You have to put clues together to find the right person.

Since I had the victim’s name and complete address, I was able to find her pretty quickly but the number I found listed was not in service. I then went through the cards in her wallet and found an insurance card with a man’s name on it but the same last name as her. I deduced this was probably her husband’s insurance card. Steve did more digging online, this time using his name with her address and got another phone number.

I called the gentleman’s phone number and made a call, but as expected he didn’t pick up this strange number. I called a second time and something really interesting happened.

A synthesized voice answered and said, “Hello, this is Google Assistant. The owner of this number wanted me to inquire on why you are calling.”

Isn’t that cool? I said, “I think I found your wife’s stolen purse.” In about 2 seconds the gentleman came on the line and said, “Really? You found the purse?”

At this moment he and his wife were in the Verizon store getting her a new phone because that’s what she needed the most and he put her on the line.

She told me that she’d been at a gas station pumping gas into her car when someone came up on the passenger side, smashed in the window, grabbed her purse from the car, and drove away. It was truly a terrible day. I asked if she was going to do a police report and she said yes, but she’d spent the afternoon canceling her credit cards.

I told her the only bit of good news she’d had that day. Because I found her purse and wallet, she would not have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get her driver’s license replaced! She was weary but certainly happy about that.

She said they’d just gotten to Verizon and asked if we could meet up at a local coffee shop when they were done. I joked that since they’d just started, it would be about 6-7 hours at Verizon (they’re notoriously slow).

A little while after we hung up, the doorbell rang. We were still a bit wary so we checked our video doorbell before answering and we saw a police officer so we answered the door.

We let him in and after I got to tell my story of heroism again, he asked if we could call the woman again so he could talk to her. I called the husband’s number and he immediately said that they were right at the end of their transaction at Verizon and could she call me back. I explained that a police officer wanted to talk to her so she came on the line.

After he confirmed with her that she wanted to file a police report, he said he was going to take both her purse and the backpack to the station and she could meet him there to file the report and get her purse back. As much as I’d enjoyed telling this woman that I’d found her purse, I was glad to wash my hands of it and to let him try to find the backpack owner.

After the excitement, I called my friend Pat Dengler to tell her all of this because I’d been on the phone with her when I found the backpack. She said, “I wonder if any of your neighbors have video cameras that might have captured the thief.” Wait, I HAVE VIDEO CAMERAS! And three of them should have at least a partial view of the curb where the backpack was dropped.

Now we get to talk about tech angle number two. In our living room, we have a Eufy cam that lives indoors but points out the front window. Its job is to get a good view of the driveway and front walkway up to our house. We have a second Eufy cam stuck to the inside glass of our garage door, which gives it a perfect view of the driveway and the house across the street where the bag was dropped.

The third camera is an old Wyze cam that’s supposed to be an indoor cam but we keep it outdoors anyway. For the price we paid for it, it’s survived quite well through the harsh winters of Southern California! I don’t trust Wyze to have any cameras inside my house but looking outwards is just fine.

I chose the Eufy cams to replace my Wyzecams a few years ago (before their third major security breach) and I chose Eufy because the cameras are HomeKit-compatible. They can have their own internal storage like the Wyzecams, but since they’re compatible with HomeKit, you can enable HomeKit Secure Video on them.

When enabled for HomeKit Secure Video, all recordings are stored in iCloud. If you pay for any version of iCloud+ you can have at least one camera’s video stored in iCloud (more cameras as you go up in tiers.) The only downside to HomeKit Secure Video is that even if you have higher-resolution cameras, you have to set them to 1080P. The Eufy’s are 2K and it killed me to have them at 1080P, but the video is still really clear and crisp.

In HomeKit, for each camera, you can choose whether to have the cameras just stream video on demand, or stream and record to iCloud. You can also choose whether to just have the recordings go to iCloud when no one is home. Since I really don’t want the cameras inside my house constantly recording our activities, I set them all to only record when we’re not home.

Well you can see the problem here, right? Our super crisp and clear Eufy cams didn’t record anything going on across the street when the stolen backpack and purse were dropped off because Steve was home while I was on the walk. I’ve since then changed the outward-facing garage Eufy to record at all times so now I have recordings of every dog walker, stroller pusher, and commuter car that drives by my house.

But our old Wyzecam that’s been suffering outside in the wind, rain, and sun all these years had an SD card in it and had recorded the thief dropping off the backpack. Steve was able to isolate a 20-second clip of the thief dropping off the backpack. In the video, you can see the curb and grass with no backpack, and then you see a car drive up and slow down. As it pulls away you can clearly see a black blob on the grassy median.

Then you see the car go to the corner, hang a U-turn, and come back in view of the camera and drive back up to the right. Steve studied the car, and especially the specialized wheels, and determined it appears to be a dark grey 2016 – 2019 Nissan Sentra with custom, 5-spoke wheels. Unfortunately, the video was not of sufficient resolution to make out a license plate number.

no backpack visible then car drives up and slows down. after car pulls away you see the backpack.
Caught the Thief Dumping the Backpack and Purse

Steve sent the video to the officer but we didn’t hear back from him.

I did get a text back from the husband of the woman who’s purse was stolen thanking me again for helping them get her belongings back from the police officer. Since I had the gentleman’s attention, I told him how cool I thought it was that he had Google Assistant screen his calls so he knew to pick up my call. He proudly answered, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool – comes standard with all Google Pixel phones!”

Now I want a Google Pixel.

A day or two later, I got a text message from the owner of the backpack. By the time he wrote to me, he was back in Chicago but because of my help, the police officer had contacted him and they arranged for him to pick up his belongings when he returns to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks. I don’t think the officer had told him much about the backpack, so I got to tell him that his Bose headphones were still in it.

I asked him how his backpack was stolen and he explained that he was putting gas in a rental car at a gas station (a different one from the woman) and someone walked up and took the backpack right out the front seat.

So two different cars in two areas about 10 miles apart had their cars broken into at gas stations. When I told this story to fellow Tesla owner Pat, she said, “Yet another reason to get an electric vehicle.” 😜

3 thoughts on “A Car Thief, a Purse, a Backpack, Google Assistant, and Security Cameras

  1. Jamie Cox - May 14, 2024

    Interesting story, but weird. Why did the thief ditch the backpack, and why there? (I’m thinking he wanted to ditch any Air Tags or other trackers.) Why didn’t he take the headphones? Did he not realize that the backpack itself had value?

    I need to check how long my Eufy doorbell camera keeps video.

    It took me a second to understand Pat’s comment “another reason to get an electric vehicle”. I have a Tesla, and they do get broken into — but not at gas stations!

  2. Steve Sheridan - May 14, 2024

    Jamie, those are good questions. We wondered as well why the expensive headphones were still in the backpack. And although we live relatively near (within 5 miles from) the gas stations where the backpack and purse were stolen, why would they pick our particular neighborhood to drop them off? But once they were on our road, they probably picked the house in front of ours to drop off the backpack because it is up for sale and no one is living there now. After dropping off the backpack, I think they took a U-turn to head back in the direction of the major road intersecting the street we live on.

  3. Allison Sheridan - May 14, 2024

    Jamie – I’m not positive this is the answer to the Bose headphones question, but I didn’t notice them in the backpack the first time I went through it. The pocket in the back looked like maybe a laptop sleeve at most and only when I dug my hand down in there did I realize that something thick was inside. Later when the officer came, I went to show him the headphones, and at first I couldn’t find them. It’s like a magic pocket!

    Not knowing this was a $600 backpack is reasonable I suppose, and they’re looking for things they can sell quickly I guess. There’s no understanding thieves. When I was in high school our house was broken into and they move a $300 pair of binoculars to steal an ancient console TV. Worse yet they took a kitchen knife out of a drawer to cut the cord! They stole a pair of my dad’s shoes, my $60 nickel plated flute, then had a cigarette in the bathroom. Before they left they took a pound of hamburger from the fridge.


    p.s. I’m pretty sure Pat was making a little joke…

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