The Burglar Trap

ByHERBERT COGGINS

I WASN’T naturally drawn to crime as a hobby. But when I came home one evening and found that my bedroom window had been jimmied open and a fur coat and two suits were missing, I realized it was something that rated my personal attention. I phoned the police. Their painstaking survey confirmed my conclusion that there had been a robbery, and after some close questioning about my personal habits and occupation they deftly cleared me of all suspicion in connection with it. As they left they explained that sooner or later they always caught up with a burglar. I judged afterwards they didn’t know at the time that this particular burglar had failed to leave his address with headquarters; for up to a recent inquiry they were still out of touch with him.

There and then I saw that the police method of dealing with crime was wrong. I would handle the case myself. I realized immediately that to pursue a burglar after the crime was ridiculous. We must deal with him ahead of time. In everyday matters we all know better. A housewife wouldn’t think of trailing a mouse to recover the cheese.

So instead of trying blindly to follow the burglar I would trap him. My own house would be the hunting grounds. The trap was simple to the point of absurdity— merely a door in the floor like those of the melodramas of my youth, wherein the villain pushed a button and suddenly dropped the hero into the cellar. I had the door cut by an expert cabinetmaker who skillfully camouflaged the cracks in the parquet pattern. When not set for a burglar it could be bolted as solidly as the original floor. It faced the window but at a distance; there must be nothing to grasp on the way down.

Its only original feature was that, instead of dropping into a conventional dungeon or watery pit, the visitor merely slid into a funnel-shaped canvas bag, fitting so snugly that his arms were automatically trussed up above his head. He couldn’t reach for a knife or a gun.

My first chance to try the invention was in late summer while the family were on vacation. As I look back now, I realize that I was successful because I approached the problem through the mind of the burglar himself. First of all, I thoughtfully lowered all the window shades of the house, giving notice that we were away and that the coast was clear. I dropped the upper half of the window opposite the trap a few inches to suggest oversight or a broken catch. In the side yard I planted a small ladder and covered it carelessly with a painter’s dropcloth, taking care that the end of the ladder was in plain view. On and around the cloth I set a number of old paint cans.

On the front porch I tossed a couple of folded newspapers and beside the back door I set a bottle of milk. To each of these I added one a day to record the family’s absence. All in all the situation from the burglar’s point of view was an act of Providence. In the meantime I made my headquarters in my sister’s home a few blocks away.

Early each morning I hurried over to my house. On the fourth visit, to my excitement, I saw the ladder up and the window open. Instead of entering, I wisely phoned the police from a pay station and asked for a couple of plain-clothes men. I wanted to operate quietly, but no biggame hunt ever gave me the tremors with which I led the two officers through the hall to the basement. As I expected, they were skeptical, but when I brought them to the squirming, bulging bag they grasped their revolvers and stood ready. I pulled down the heavy zipper and disgorged a sullen and chagrined burglar. As with one voice the officers hailed him by name like a long-lost and welcome acquaintance.

It is an understatement to say that headquarters was intrigued by my accomplishment. The chief was particularly coöperative. He and the two officers agreed with me that the value of my method lay in secrecy. One news story would not only deter hometown burglars, but would drive them to other cities, where, coping with the old police methods, they might thrive for years.

I volunteered my house for further experiment, for we decided that one trap could be made to service the entire city. It seems that burglars make careful surveys when they arrive in town. Our only problem, at the first sign of their presence, was to see that my house offered them the city’s best opportunity.

One successful experience after another soon showed that I had devised a very neat method of solving the burglary problem. But what gratified me most was the department’s contention that the process was a positive deterrent for this type of crime.

A captured burglar usually admits that his is a poorly paid profession. For when, to his usual hours of work, there are added fairly regular stretches in the penitentiary, it is obvious that he gives a lot of unpaid overtime. What makes the calling attractive is his feeling of superiority over the people he robs and the police he outwits. So when he finds himself outwitted by a childish mechanical affair, as one of them said, “like a lousy coyote,” it is painfully deflating.

In fact one of the men we caught, who happened to be mechanical, was so far diverted from his old life that he helped me develop and perfect my trap. It was he who invented the soundproof muffler with which we were finally forced to equip my invention. For the neighbors were beginning to complain to the police about the queer noises that came from my house at odd hours of the night. They didn’t know - and we didn’t want them to know — what it was. With few exceptions the men we caught showed positive symptoms of claustrophobia. The noise was the hysterical burglars yelling for the police.