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Stolen goods

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MaryWitzl

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I'm revising a story involving stolen goods, found by my protagonists in the woodwork of an old house. As relatively new homeowners, they have already turned in a bag of jewellery they found in the house, but they've now found other items, far more valuable, but not in the eyes of the police (who are, in this case, not the best and brightest).

My question is this:  what would you do?  Assuming the same situation -- that the police showed a distinct lack of interest in the items that you knew to be very valuable -- would you hang onto them for a while to try and find the owner, or would you hand them over to the police even if they seemed distinctly uninterested and not committed to preserving the goods?  Would you seek legal advice?

All opinions gratefully accepted. I just need to work my head around getting the protagonists NOT to do the right thing...for a while.
#1 - July 14, 2011, 08:41 AM

AdamV

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I wouldn't give them to the police. There doesn't seem to be a reason to think a crime has been committed, and the police station isn't a lost and found. Also, it wouldn't do anybody any good for the valuables to sit in an evidence locker somewhere to be forgotten forever. I would try to figure out who the previous owner of the goods was and give them back, but I'd be more than happy to just keep them. I'm pretty sure I own everything that is stuffed into the woodwork of my house, but I might check with a lawyer friend to verify that.
#2 - July 14, 2011, 09:10 AM

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I, also, would leave the police and other authorities out of it. I would maybe do an owner search of the property trying to find out its history and answer the question: Why are these things hidden in the walls, floors, etc?  I would also do newspaper searches for about the time these things were hidden--stolen goods? If so, maybe your protagonist would not want to do the right thing and give them to the people/family descendants? that had a right to them after finding out the truth.
#3 - July 14, 2011, 09:31 AM
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I am taking for granted that the people know the goods were stolen... So my question would be, who were they stolen from or who stole them - what time period?  Are there newspaper articles?  Stories around town?  Google the items - if they are that valuable.  Find out where they were stolen from - especially if the police do not seem to think they are of any interest, leave them out.  Or try to turn them over and have the police say something like that is just a bunch of old junk we don't need to be dealing with and have the story go from there. 

Otherwise it is finder's keepers - could bring up some good ethical arguments. bwahaahaa
#4 - July 14, 2011, 10:02 AM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

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MaryWitzl

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Thank you, everybody -- that helps a lot!
#5 - July 14, 2011, 10:48 AM

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Assuming that they have good reason to believe these items are stolen, why are the police so determined not to take them? Is it a case of "bumbling police officer doesn't believe the smart kid?" Because, other than that, I can't think of many scenarios where someone would go to the police and say, "hey, this is stolen, and here's why I think so," and they wouldn't take an interest.

But if I *did* do that, and they *didn't* believe me, and I really did think they were stolen goods, the first thing I'd do is try to get some sort of documentation that said I tried to turn them in. I don't like the legal implications of sitting around with stuff in my house that appears (for whatever reason) to be most likely stolen.

Also, I think this recent story might interest you (it's not about stolen goods, but it is about finding money in your new house!)
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/utah-man-finds-45000-house-returns-rightful-owner/story?id=13648293
"Utah Man Finds $45,000 in House and Returns it to Rightful Owner"
#6 - July 14, 2011, 01:31 PM

MaryWitzl

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Thank you, Lauren -- I read several stories about people finding money and treasures in their houses back when I was first researching this, but I love that one.

Finding that the stolen items are valuable coincides with another crime, so the police are partly distracted by that, and by the knowledge that jewellery was found previously.
#7 - July 14, 2011, 02:01 PM

I thought anything you found in your house was yours - like you bought it when you bought the house. I'd assume that, anyway, unless the police told me differently.

If I did find something that was clearly left behind by whomever sold me the house, I would try to give it back. But, if I found like a necklace hidden under a floorboard or something that looked to be left over from several owners ago, I'd think it was mine.
#8 - July 14, 2011, 02:05 PM
Robin

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That is sort of why I said "Finders Keepers"

Most Carpenters always leave something behind when they work on a house and I do not mean just their initials.  My brother, an unemployed master carpenter has told me he always leaves something (coin or some other object that will last) with his name beside it).  He has done this in a church where he as restored the figures in a Catholic Church and hidden it so well that probably the only other person that will find it will be someone else doing restoration work or tearing out that portion of the alter. 

He also hide things in houses he works on - what and where only he knows.

People who have died without any relatives to inherit their property, or someone who has hidden something so long ago that it may be very hard to trace the family (although today that would be rather hard with the genealogical records on line), or perhaps in a house that was a rental property for years.  My friend and I moved into a house that was built as a rental property in 1900 and stayed rental property until somewhere around the 1980s (and it was in fantastic condition).  I do not think the owner of the rental property could claim whatever was hidden in the house, nor how would your prove which family that lived in the house for the 80 some years was the one to leave it behind?

Alas, we only found a horse's tooth, a clay marble, a china doll arm and lots of broken china.  >sigh<

#9 - July 15, 2011, 06:45 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

http://www.lizstrawwrites.com/

There was that story this year of that guy in Austria or Switzerland I think who had a treasure trove of jewelry from, I think, the Middle Ages that he'd dug up in is backyard when putting in a pond.  He ended up donating it to a museum.  But I think legally, it was his.
#10 - July 15, 2011, 07:08 PM
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MaryWitzl

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Thank you, Robin, Liz and J.Ro. Here in Scotland (where my story takes place) we've got an antiquities law, but it only applies to historical artifacts, dating back a certain number of years (as in hundreds). Other things you find on your own property are your own, but there is a grey area where stolen property, or probable stolen property, is concerned. But it's very helpful to have all these different opinions!

We live in a large Victorian house. When I'm digging in the garden, I often find tiny horseshoes, or pony-shoes, I suppose, along with bits of broken porcelain and old bones. We also found a lot of horse hair when one of our ceilings came down (the Victorians used horse hair and even human hair as insulation), and a number of cigarette butts. But I live in hope...
#11 - July 17, 2011, 08:15 AM

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Mary, you find interesting stuff in your garden! We're in the process of remodeling our kitchen and when we tore out the old cabinets we found two school portraits and somebody's credit card from 1986. I keep hoping we find serious money, but so far all we've found is twelve cents.  :snork
#12 - July 17, 2011, 10:14 AM

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I think it depends on the protag's age, the house's age, & the region.

If the house was historic & the items were too, I would look into prior owners and see an antiquity expert for any era clues. If the house was one of the new construction, I'd check with the police.

Region might be a factor too. As you say, it depends on the area. I live in Virginia, so anything historic is only a century or so old at best. I also live in a newly constructed house (unfortunately), and I met the peculiar couple from whom we bought the house.  If something historic was found in MY house, it would have to be either left behind by the couple we bought the house from OR the builders.  In my situation, I'd go to the police.

Also, WHERE it was would matter. If it was shoved in that back corner of the top shelf of my closet where I can't reach without a stepladder, I'd assume it was left accidentally, & then I'd try to find the prior owner. If it was in the walls (ie during construction), that's a little more peculiar so I'd call the police. If my house were historic, and the item was in the walls, I'm back to research, consult experts.

Fun quandary to ponder as the caffeine sets... Good luck with the story.
#13 - July 17, 2011, 12:15 PM

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