Off Beat: Behind-scenes work can lead to many happy returns

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Not all our heroes carry handcuffs. Some heroes input, update and tend the computerized information that might one day reunite a crime victim with stolen property.

They manage the massive inventory of property evidence seized, stolen, found, recovered or — in the case of contraband — destined for destruction, playing a crucial role in the overall success of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

When his home was ransacked more than 40 years ago, a local burglary victim thought he’d never see his property again. That changed when a Snohomish County deputy responded to a report of a hiker finding a bag of firearms along a wilderness trail. All of the guns were in excellent condition and hadn’t been outdoors for very long.

From markings on the firearms, the deputy was able to connect the guns to the long-ago Clark County crime. When the now-elderly original owner retrieved the recovered firearms, he told the property/evidence staff that two of the weapons were the first guns he had owned as a young man. He was excited to have them back.

A sheriff’s detective in California’s Inyo County, home of Death Valley, found a handgun stolen long ago in Clark County among property turned in to their office. The stolen firearm’s original owner had died several years earlier. His brother claimed the handgun and was glad to have something once owned by his late brother.

When a Battle Ground residence was burglarized in 1986, a prized Winchester rifle was stolen. A routine records check at a Lewiston, Idaho, pawn shop 27 years later led to its recovery.

When a 92-year-old woman came into the Sheriff’s Office to reclaim the Winchester, she said the rifle was a favorite of her late husband’s, and she was delighted to have it returned to the family. She planned to present the rifle as a gift to her grandson when he came home on leave from military service.

These crimes remain unsolved, and those responsible have not been held accountable, at least not yet.

But law enforcement isn’t just about locking up crooks; sometimes it’s having a dedicated staff and a system to record and track serial numbers and other identifying features that might reunite stolen property with the rightful owner.


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.