12 Days of Retail Christmas: Awkward Stolen Merchandise Returns

I was a shoplifter pulp movie poster funny unbelievable 1950s b-movie
Such an intense movie.  Don't watch it with the kids.  
Twice because of Sears, I have been subpoenaed. Although, neither time have they needed my testimony. Thankfully, I didn't have to tell why I gave a discount on bike rack to a guy (a co-worker) who just murdered his wife and was attempting to flee to Mexico.  Obviously he didn't tell me this at the register.  I don't usually give discounts to capital offenders, unless of course, they are threatening me, then they can have whatever the heck they want.

The second story is quite a bit more humorous, and so legendary in Sears circles, that it is almost an urban myth.  It's not a myth, just an ironic theft story, with me at the center.

UNLV running rebels hooded hoodie sweatshirt red grey with mascot
What early 90's kid didn't own a hot UNLV
Duke, or Michigan article of clothing?  
Before you start judging me for being a thief and an unknowing accomplice to murder, know that I have never shoplifted an item in my life. My 7th grade friend Josh was, however, a master thief, and once stole four hoodie sweatshirts from one store at the same time. He also, somehow, stole three pairs of Oakley sunglasses (back when they were locked in those plastic cases at Zumiez) and was never caught by any store security. The one infamous trip to the mall where he took home almost $1000.00 in merchandise was the day I realized I did not want to be a part of that group of friends ever again. I sat in the food court and waited for our ride to pick us up. Later, when Josh was selling off his goods to friends, a call came to my house. Josh's mother had figured it out, and was calling all his friend's parents to notify them that all us kids were in a huge shoplifting ring. We all had to go apologize to the stores and accept whatever punishment they handed down. I avoided any monetary fines (unlike Josh), but I did have to break down boxes for a few hours at a few stores. All because I didn't NARC on my friends. Okay, I did get a UNLV Rebels sweatshirt out of the whole fiasco...but that was in 7th grade.

Flash forward six years, and I was a newbie hardware associate at Sears:  Still learning the ropes of retail when the insanity of Christmas season rolled along.  I barely knew the product, barely knew store policies, and was afraid of all the old time vets who would glare, yell, get in your face if you accidentally stole one of their sales.  Most of those crafty vets worked in Appliances or Lawn & Garden.  I stayed away from their merchandise.

Craftsman Circular Saw Skil Millennium Series tool power Sears
The "Millennium" series.  If I knew it was
designed to break for the year 2000, I wouldn't
have bought it.  
An unrelated aspect of working retail was all the good deals we could get.  We knew where the good coupons were coming from.  We knew when sales were starting.  We knew where old, closeout, marked down items were located (hopefully hidden in some corner of the stockroom).  And so, with decent money for the first time in my life, and access to good merchandise at good deals, I bought my father a high-end Craftsman circular saw (often called a Skil saw) that normally retailed at $79.99, I paid right under $50.  It came in a blow molded case, and the box was about the size of a small cat carrier.  I couldn't take it out to my car until my break, so I decided to pick it up via package pick up.

I left it exposed in the back of my beautiful bronze 1985 hatchback Honda Accord, which was obviously a mistake, because the car often had people gawking at its beauty and sophistication like it was Kit from Knight Rider.

1985 Honda Accord Hatchback Bronze Brown 5 Speed
Oh, Accord, how I loved you.  Some day I will get you back
and install that talking device you so deserve.  
The second mistake was that my car was parked in the back of the Gateway Mall in Springfield, OR.  Not only was this mall prolific enough to make David Letterman's Top Ten list of trashiest malls in America, it was also the number 1 spot (per capita) for car theft in the state of Oregon.

None of this, however, was on my mind while I was frantically helping customers that December evening. Somehow, I was without a till, so I was the guy unlocking power tool cases, or grabbing boxed Christmas trees out of the back stock room.  In the midst of all this chaos, a lady says, "Hey, can you help me do a return in Lawn & Garden?"

My fear of those guys losing the commission on a returned item, and stepping foot in their department had me hesitant, "I'm sorry, I'm a Hardware associate, I can see if one of those guys can help you though..."

"They're all busy, and it's a tool anyways."

"Oh, in that case, I'll see what I can do."

There was an open register (surprisingly), so I got behind the desk, and she flung up the large tool case. It was the same circular saw product that I had recently bought my dad.  Odd.  We didn't sell a ton of high end circular saws around Christmas, as usually contractors prefer the models with more power, and unknowing wives prefer the models that cost $29.99.

I started the return.  "I just bought my Dad..."  I stopped talking.  I couldn't figure out how my name was at the top of the receipt...only the associate number is supposed to be on a receipt, but there it said: Chris Plumb.  Then it dawned on me.  Customer names only appear on a receipt when they pick it up from package pickup.  This was my saw!  This woman had broke into my car, and of all 100+ employees in the store, found me to do the return!  She wasn't happy enough to have a free saw, she wanted the money for it!  MY MONEY!

"I, uh...I have to go get the stock number off this item before I can do the return (which was a stupid lie, because the stock number was on every side of the box),"  I nervously said.

"Okay, I'm just going to look through this wrapping paper bin."  She replied.

I looked at her for the first time.  She wasn't a tweaker.  She was in her thirties, slightly disheveled, but she didn't look like a criminal.  Then I saw her kid.  He was running down one of the isles, clumsily touching everything as he went which was standard for a 7-year-old in Sears.  She had a family.  SHE HAD A FAMILY!  I was so angry and upset and sad for her at the same time.  But this was my saw!

I quickly walked to where we stocked the circular saws, and grabbed the phone right by the cash wrap, cutting off a customer and another associate who were in the middle of a transaction.  They looked at me oddly, until they heard me after I dialed the number for Loss Prevention: "Can you come out to Lawn and Garden, I have a customer trying to return stolen merchandise.  How do I know it's stolen?  It's my saw, she stole it out of my car...the receipt has my name on it!!!"

The other associate and customer suddenly stopped what they were doing.  "I've gotta see this," she said to her customers, who happily obliged and I suddenly had an entourage following me back to Lawn and Garden.  They stopped short of the sales desk and watched like spectators at a gladiator event.

Cindy Lou Who Grinch who stole Christmas animated version with ornament
I often held this face after dealing with mean customers.  
"Okay, I uh, got the stock number..." I desperately tried to stay normal as I fumbled through the return. I "accidentally" hit the wrong button a few times. She didn't mind. She actually was chit-chatting with me about sales, and how she was almost done with her Christmas shopping. "YEAH, CAUSE YOU FREAKING STOLE EVERYTHING, YOU GRINCH!" I wanted to yell at her. But instead I just let my computer beep and balk at all my commands, like a new associate doing a complex return without a receipt. Where was Loss Prevention?

Finally, our big bouncer looking security guy named Juan came out. Juan later became a cop, and was later jailed for trading sexual favors for ripped up speeding tickets, but that's a different story completely. Anyways, Juan comes out and says, "Ma'am, do you want to do this return in the back?"

"No, why?" She said.

"Cause this saw is stolen, follow me...that's not a request."

"I don't know what you're talking about...I bought that saw..."

For the sake of brevity, I'll cut this short.  It turns out her husband actually broke into my car.  The Springfield Police found him outside waiting for his wife.  He had a number of outstanding warrants.

I found out when one of the cops was interviewing me.  The other cop walks up and says, "so we got the husband in the back room now.  He's wanted on multiple charges.  He's also a suspect in the double homicide that happened on 48th St. last Friday as well."

They mentioned this seemingly confidential information within two feet of my standing.  Almost immediately afterward, the original cop said, "Okay kid, you want to ID the lady for me?"

Now?  After I find out they are hardcore murdering convicts?  No way.  "Uh..I guess."

Loss Prevention room with multiple televisions monitors security cameras
Sometimes I would sneak into our loss prevention room
and redirect all our satellite nuclear weapons from Russian
sites to Canadian locations.  Canadians, ugh.  
In the Loss Prevention room sat the lady, handcuffed next to her husband, and their child pretended to be controlling the twenty or so security cameras monitoring parts of the store.  The boy seemed at ease. Almost as if he had been in one of these unfortunate situations before.

"So is this the lady who tried to return the merchandise to you?" the first cop asked me.

Her head hung low, but still it was easy to identify her, "Yeah."

"So, now we just have to find the owner of this saw."  the second officer said.

"Oh, it's mine." I said.

"Wait," the cop said, as it was being exposed to him for the first time, "this lady breaks into your car, steals your saw, and then of all the employees in the store, finds you and tries to return it to you?  The rightful owner?  This is classic.  Only in Springfield."

Yes.  Classic.  Only in Springfield, and about a hundred thousand trashy towns across America.  The lady lifted up her head in shocked amazement, as it finally sunk in how she was sacked.

I saw her shake her head in disbelief.  Classic, she must have thought, this story will live in Sears infamy.  


  1. That is amazing! Wow. Instant karma, eh?

    1. Yeah. Hopefully the kid came out as unscarred as possible. I don't think the parents ever did time as a result of this crime, as the trial date was canceled before I ever got there. But if it were me, the humiliation of being in the back room would be punishment enough to never do it again.

  2. My carpool didn't understand why I was nervous to leave my car at The Gateway Mall. . .haha.

  3. I'd forgotten about this story, it was a great read! It should be on stupid criminal acts...

  4. This is one of the best dumb criminal stories ever! To have it actually happen to you is amazing. I do have to ask though, were you able to give your dad the saw for Christmas, or was it evidence?

    1. I was able to take it home that night. It was an odd case. I never gave a formal testimony (or interview) or whatever it's called when they base evidence on your side of the story. I think the other charges against him were far more substantial... but I was formally subpoenaed twice for that case and called the night before to say my presence was not needed. I've always wondered what kind of plea bargain they came up with.

  5. Oh my gosh! That is hysterical and sad at the same time. I am forwarding this to my friend who has worked retail forever. She will love it. Especially since she is starting the lovely holiday season at Neiman Marcus. Lol. Thanks for making me laugh!

    1. Yes, forward away...and thanks for stopping by.

      I checked out your blog, and read a little about your book: I like the flower names (seems like it might be a symbol), as my daughter's name is Lily. Sounds good (and great simple yet refined cover design). Is it an ebook only or a traditional publication? Either way, good luck.

    2. Thanks! I am self publishing. Darling daughter is a graphic designer. She likes simple and I agree. The flower names do have some meaning in the story. I love the name Lily and we even spell it the same! If you know someone who might like to read it I am happy to send you a copy in whatever format you need. It will be available in print also but said daughter has to get it done first! I am really enjoying your blog! =)

  6. Wow! That has got to be the best story. Even the part about knowing the notorious police officer before his problems began.

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