AS A crime reporter I have covered many stories – from the most simple to the most tragic.
Yet rarely have I had to go behind the scenes to try and capture the fallout, the post crime collateral damage.
Certainly not for what everyone – from government to social scientists, police and media – refers to as petty, or minor, crime.
But I have discovered when you are the victim – and last week that’s what I was – there is nothing minor or petty about it.
While swimming laps at the Echuca pool on Wednesday I had my purse and iPhone stolen.
I hadn’t lost them, misplaced them – or even walked off without them, inviting someone with fewer morals to help themselves.
This was a thief brazen enough to rummage through my swimming bag, placed on a chair at the edge of the pool, in front of at least 100 people, and take off with my valuables.
Valuables I thought would be safer there rather than inside the change room where I couldn’t see them.
When I discovered they were gone, I was overwhelmed with feelings.
Confusion, disbelief, shock, devastation, anger and frustration. It’s a lot to run through in moments but I copped them all.
Then gasped when I realised the memories my vanished phone held – the photos of my children and our family, the videos, the holidays, the friends.
At first I couldn’t believe somebody would do that and then I panicked again as I realised they had my cards.
And as fast as I acted to block my debit card this callous thief had already tapped almost $300 in four transactions.
The next hour or two was a blur as I dealt with police, the bank and Telstra.
There is so much to organise when you’re in this situation and with two young kids seeing their mother distressed, well I was only just holding it together.
But what followed is an excellent example of persistence, investigative skills and spectacular police work.
As the thief had turned my phone off I couldn’t track it through the Find My Phone app, but I found out where the bank transactions had taken place.
Coles and Liquorland – clearly my personal thief had started shopping by finding someone else’s hard earned money and stealing it before heading off with their shopping list.
I went to the shops with information about the value of the transaction and the timeframe it was made and sure enough they found it the next day.
But not before I managed to trace my phone to an address in Echuca South.
I was at the Telstra shop when I thought I’d give the Find My Phone app another crack and, by sheer luck, it worked.
I was straight back on the phone to the police, who responded immediately – first telling me they did not need me to get there before them and then heading over to the property while keeping me updated every step of the way.
Unfortunately the occupant said she knew nothing about the theft, but had a friend who stayed the previous night.
Not surprisingly, she wasn’t there.
By then, Liquorland had retrieved CCTV footage and given it to police, who identified my thief and yes, it was the same friend who had gone AWOL.
The police went back to the property, searched the place and eventually found my phone.
Much to my absolute delight.
If you’re anything like me, your life is in your phone. I was completely lost without it.
Apart from all the memories it also has my reminders of where to be, all my contacts, messages and valuable information.
Unfortunately my purse has not been found and I am guessing it has been discarded in a bin somewhere as it had no tangible value to my thief. But I still hope someone may find it as it is as valuable as my phone.
As for the $30 cash it contained, I’ve written that off as the least of my worries.
After the long weekend I suspect I will now spend days cancelling cards, getting new ones and trying to get all the services plugged into them changed.
Police have told me I am one in a long line of victims this woman has stolen from during the past few months.
And I can’t help but feel for them as well; many of whom likely had a lot more stolen from them than I did.
And probably weren’t as lucky as me.
To have something special and valuable taken from you is violating, you feel gutted and you feel vulnerable.
Sadly you also look at people in a different, disturbing, way – because your sense of trust in a country town has also been stolen.
The whole experience has been stressful and disruptive; I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
But when it did happen it’s good to know our police are there to help.
And in this case, because of the evidence we could quickly assemble, the help of Coles and Liquorland and the tracking technology, the outcome was so much better than many of these cases often are.
Finally I’d like to publicly and gratefully thank Leading Senior Constable Allan Foskett and Constable Kerrie Thomson for their help.
And advise you all to heed the warning they, and other police, make so often – taking simple steps to secure your portable valuables, your car and your house are often the difference between a good night’s sleep and the chaos into which I and others were plunged by this person.