The headline read “iPhone Helps Crack Aspen Theft Case.” The story, which first appeared in the Aspen Daily News, had been picked up by the Associated Press and was running in media all over the country, from Denver’s Channel 7 News to SFgate.com to tech websites like i4u.com. The story received so much attention because, according to the article, the police had used the ‘Find My iPhone’ app to trace a stolen cell phone and locate the thief, who had taken more than $30,000 worth of items.

Except that’s not really what happened.

I know this because I was there.

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This all went down at a yoga studio in Aspen, Colo., where I was on vacation with my extended family, probably one of the last places in the world I would expect to get robbed. For those of you who are not familiar with Aspen, it is a wealthy community that attracts celebrities like Goldie Hawn, Lance Armstrong, and anyone who enjoys wearing ankle-length fur coats. So I didn’t even think twice about leaving my purse, which was really no more than a canvas shopping bag, stuffed under a bench right outside the yoga studio while I was in class. My cousin Carey did the same.

About 10 minutes into class, Carey got up and ran outside the studio to move her purse to where she could see it. Of course, I thought Carey was being paranoid. That was, until we got out of class to find a girl sobbing that her wedding ring had been stolen from her bag, which had also been stashed under the bench. To make matters worse, she told us that the next day was her one-year anniversary. “My husband is going to kill me!” she cried. “Some husband,” I thought to myself. Then I heard Carey let out a gasp. “All my jewelry is gone!” she exclaimed after looking in her purse. I quickly glanced in my bag. There were my sweatshirt, sunglasses, room key, Clif Bar, and….Gosh darn it! My cell phone and wallet were gone! Looking up at the weeping bride and Carey, who appeared completely crestfallen after explaining that now missing from her purse were the pair of earrings her father had given her for her wedding last year (what’s up with the newlyweds leaving expensive jewelry in their satchels?), along with antique jewelry from her grandmother, I didn’t feel so bad about getting a cell phone and wallet stolen, all of which can be replaced. (Fortunately, I only had $7 cash in my wallet. Sometimes it pays never to make it to the ATM.)

The three of us ran to the front desk to tell the girls who worked at the studio that we had been robbed. After calling the police, one of the employees, Lesley, and Carey both remembered a strange woman who had been walking around the place before class, which is why Carey had moved her purse — she had gotten a weird vibe from her. That’s when the first policeman showed up. As Carey and Lesley tried to describe the strange woman — early 30s, brown hair, white hoodie with blue stripes — the cop didn’t seem to hear. “Did she have grey hair?” he kept asking, apparently stuck on some well-known Aspen vagrant. We all looked at each other in disbelief, as if to say, “What’s up with this guy? Didn’t he hear us just describe the suspect?” While the cop stared into space, pondering the next move — he hadn’t even asked us yet what was stolen — a woman who had been in the same yoga class phoned in to say her iPhone was missing. That’s when Carey got the brilliant idea of using the app to track the phone, and the thief. With the iPhone owner’s permission, Carey and Lesley got her password and went online. Within seconds, we had the culprit’s exact location — Cooper and Mill streets, in the middle of Aspen. The thief was still in town, just minutes away! The cop, meanwhile, seemed at a loss for what to do, fumbling with his ripped up notebook that had no clean pages left in it. At one of the girl’s suggestion, he went back to his car to grab another one. With the police utterly useless, Carey looked at me: “Let’s go find her and get our stuff back.” A showdown! I was in.

Mr. Policeman finally decided to make himself useful and offered to drive Carey and Lesley to town, since they could identify the robber. I walked as fast as I could, my heart pounding not from the exercise but from the excitement of it all. I was living out my childhood dream — I was a Charlie’s Angel! (Jaclyn Smith, of course.) When I reached the center of town, I spotted the cop car, and, soon after, Lesley and Carey, who were going in and out of stores looking for the thief. Meanwhile, the cop was just standing there, doing nothing. I was dumbfounded. “She was just here, but now she turned off the phone!” said Carey, who was still tracking the woman using her own phone. Determined to find the thief, I walked about 100 yards, peeping into stores, when suddenly, there the woman was — white hoodie with blue stripes, casually sitting at the Rotary Club’s Ducky Derbie booth. I frantically waved down the policeman, Carey, and Lesley, who quickly identified her. When the cop reached into her bag, the first thing he pulled out was my cell phone.

No thanks to the police, we had found the robber.

So what do I take away from this incident? Two things. Even though I’m a journalist, and always strive for 100 percent accuracy in my stories, I know that you can’t take everything you read as the complete truth. In the case of the Aspen Daily News article that reported the piece, the inaccuracies weren’t the reporter’s fault — he was simply relaying the information the police had given him. (I emailed the reporter, who had this to say: “Nothing communicated to me indicated that the cops were lazy on this one [although that would not be shocking]).” The second thing I learned is, you can’t sit idly by and wait for the authorities to solve your problems. Sometimes, you have to take the initiative. Sometimes, you have to help yourself.

I wasn’t happy to discover that the police had taken the credit for capturing the thief. But, besides getting my wallet and phone back, I got two other things out of that day: a great story to tell at the bar that night, and the knowledge that with a little help from technology and a few other fearless women, we can all be our own angels.

~ Comment on this column below.

Author

  • Melissa Siig

    Melissa Siig ditched international politics in Washington, D.C. in 2001 to move to Tahoe, where she quickly found her true calling — journalism. She has written for regional and national publications, and enjoys writing about community issues and quirky human interest stories. When not at her keyboard, she is busy wrangling her three children, co-running Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, or playing outside.

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