Larry Mendte: The Case of the Missing Minivan

The bad news: This weekend my wife and I became the latest victims of crime in Philadelphia. (The good news: We may have a future as a husband-and-wife detective duo.)

I was the victim of a crime yesterday.

I believe there are many lessons to be learned from what my family and I went through and so I am going to detail it all here, even the embarrassing parts.

As many already know, I live in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. My family returned home late Saturday night after attending a charity event for the SPCA. My wife, my two young children and I were all exhausted and went right to bed.

At 4 a.m. Sunday my wife was awakened by the dog barking next door. She got up, checked on the kids and went back to bed. [SIGNUP]

I was up at 7 a.m. to watch the news; Dawn was up a short time later. These are precious moments as a couple for me and Dawn. We get time alone only early in the morning and late at night. We’re talking about the day ahead when six-year-old Michael and then three-year-old David came downstairs. Alone time is over. CNN quickly changed to Disney, and Dawn and I changed from a couple to parents.

I checked for more news on the Internet. Dawn went to the minivan to get her phone to charge.

That’s when our quiet family routine was rudely interrupted by crime. Our minivan was gone — stolen right from the garage.

Dawn had two bags in the car with valuables; both were thrown on the garage floor with her license and credit cards strewn around them. One hundred dollars in cash was gone.

We obviously were not dealing with professionals, so how did they get into our automatically locked garage?

The answer came from my car sitting in the driveway. The doors were still open and the middle console and glove compartment were open and someone had rummaged through them. Nothing was missing but some quarters for parking and tolls.

But it was the answer to the question of how. My garage door opener is attached to the passenger side sun visor.

Here is the embarrassing part. We have become complacent since we bought our White German Shepherd Buddy, 120 pounds of hair and teeth who did not take kindly to strangers. We were devastated when Buddy died a few months ago and Dawn was not ready to get another dog.

Buddy allowed us some bad habits, like not locking the door of our cars in the driveway, like leaving the keys in the car in the garage.

I know, I know, believe me we feel bad enough; we don’t need your judgment.

When Philadelphia Police Officer Gomes arrived, he told us that it happens all of the time. He also told us that the fact that we are set off the road and had no outdoor lights on made us a prime target. He also told us that the fact that the car thieves entered our attached garage while we were sleeping upstairs made it a bigger deal. Instead of a common car theft; it was now unlawful entry and burglary.

Detectives were at our home in no time looking for prints and telling us that the car would probably turn up, but they could not promise it that it wouldn’t be torched.

When the police left our home, Dawn broke down. I held her as she spoke through tears about the strangers who were under our roof as our children slept upstairs. My six-year-old son Michael asked what was the matter. When I told him, “Mommy’s car was stolen,” he also broke into tears. I asked him “Why are you crying, pal?”

“My toys are in the car.” When I asked him which toys, he cried out, “I don’t know.”

That’s when I knew it wasn’t the toys. A little innocence was lost with his realization that bad guys are closer than he ever imagined before.

And then it hit me. Dawn has an iPhone!

I called my oldest son, Jonathan, who works at the Apple store in Ardmore. “Did you set up Dawn with that thing that tracks her phone?” He did.

He told me how to track the iPhone and seconds later I was on the Internet looking at map that gave the last location of Dawn’s phone. I will not divulge the exact address, but police later told me it is a high-crime area. The map gave us an intersection.

When I told Dawn I was driving over there to see if her vehicle was there, she said “I’m going with you.”

So there we were, two married broadcasters, casing a high-crime area like Hart to Hart with no idea what we were doing. And then I saw it. “Honey, is that…?” Dawn started crying, “That’s my car.”

I pulled over and Dawn tried to get out of the car. “Do not get out of the car!” My sternness surprised Dawn and, frankly, I surprised myself. It worked. Dawn looked at me, still in tears, and I spoke in a much softer tone. “Honey, we have no idea who may be watching that car. We need to call the police.”

Dawn insisted in making the phone call to 911. I don’t know if it was the tears, the panic in her voice, the proficiency of the Philadelphia police or all of the above, but Officers Nice and Creamer were there in a flash.
They informed us that our powder blue minivan may have been used in a robbery so it needed to be impounded for finger prints. With the two car seats in the back and the “Special Olympics Donor” sticker on the windshield, this had to be either the lamest or most ingenious getaway car in history.

We get our minivan and Michael gets his toys on Wednesday or Thursday. We lost 100 dollars and an I-Phone, which was powered off shortly after we tracked it.

But it was a small price to pay for the lessons we learned. Never again will I leave my car door unlocked. In fact, I am clearing the garage and will park next to Dawn’s minivan from now on. No more will Dawn leave her keys in the ignition, not even when the vehicle is in the garage.

And we are getting another dog, one whose bite is just as bad as his bark.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his video commentaries at