When My Car Got Stolen

Below is a series of Facebook posts I made when my rental car was stolen last year in Murcia, Spain, and from when it was recovered two months later at the opposite end of the city… on a street I’d never heard of, buried under a heap of parking tickets. I then returned to Spain to recover my possessions, almost all of which were still in the vehicle, minus a transmitter unit from the drone I often carry with me to record scenic videos. This is probably my strangest travel experience to date.

August 9, 2015 – post 1:
“Either I’ve managed to get utterly lost in a 1 block radius of where I parked, or else my car has been stolen in broad daylight. Passport inside, along with camera, drone, tablet, GPS, toiletries and clothing. At the police station now… This is a hell of a way to end my weekend”

August 9, 2015 – post 2:
“Used Google Maps history to retrace my steps to the exact place where I parked and there’s now a minivan where my car was before. Time to head for Madrid to get an emergency passport and hopefully tomorrow I can find my way back to Britain”

October 6, 2015 – post 3:
“It gets stranger with every step… And something stinks. I have proof of where I parked, and I believe I know now what happened to the car, although it may be pointless to pursue with the police. Oddly enough, the drone saved me from losing everything else… This story is worth a read.

When I got the car rental agency this morning, the manager showed me to a box of my things that they were holding. At first glance, everything appeared to be present… The manager even said the GoPro was still mounted to the windshield when the car arrived and that the GPS was on the passenger seat where I’d left it. But the lens on my Nikon camera was damaged. And the drone was broken in multiple places, the gimbal was partially pried off the body, and the transmitter for the monitor (FPV) was gone. In fact, the transmitter is the only thing appeared to be missing. (Only later did I realize the significance of this.) I asked if he had dropped anything; he said no. I asked if the police might have damaged anything, and he said he’d been told that they hadn’t touched anything in the car.

The location where the police found the car was in Murcia, but not on the street where I parked it, which was Calle Cartagena. No exact address was given, and there are several matches for the name of the street in question – Avenida Rio Segura – but all are 5+ km from where I parked, and all are on the outskirts of town and too far from the city center to have been reached on foot in the hour or so that I was there. But since this street was still within city limits, neither the rental agency (nor, apparently, the police) believed me that it had been taken. Everyone insisted that I simply forgot where I parked. I started doubting myself, but with the GPS history, the saved map pin of a shop across the street, and the photo of the car next to me, it just didn’t make sense that I could be so far off base.

According to the police, there were no signs of forced entry to the car, although in my view that’s not definitive of anything… but as a result they had no proof that it had been taken. The manager said there was no damage to the vehicle, and the police reported that it looked like it hadn’t been driven for a while. The fact that basically all of my things were still present would seem to corroborate the evidence that I had simply gotten confused. After all, with electronics in plain view, surely a thief would have made off with something inside? I asked if the police had taken fingerprints, but the manager said, “Do you know how many people have driven this car? And a thief could have worn gloves.” Point taken.

So I started doubting that the car had been stolen… And thought back to something a man in a café told me while I was pacing the neighborhood looking for the car. He said sometimes if a vehicle is parked illegally, a tow truck will take it to a legal space rather than impounding it. I mentioned this to the manager, who confirmed that it can happen, but only in small towns that lack an impound lot. In Murcia, he said, they don’t do this. Then he proceeded to tell me the car was found in a pay parking zone anyway, so there’s no way a tow truck would have taken it there, and there was a “montón” (heap) of parking tickets. So my theory was evidently wrong.

At this point, the manager told me I could either pay for the days lost or else they would have to take up a case in court. He said they might not be able to prosecute me since I’m foreign, but if I ever returned to Spain, they could arrest me at the border. I insisted that it wasn’t my fault and that someone took the car, but all he said was “sorry but there is no proof.”

So I paid. We negotiated a price, he came down from €1500 to €800, and I agreed. I mean, what more could I do? Considering the car was out of commission for 50 days, there was a pile of tickets, and they had to send 2 people to retrieve it, that didn’t seem like an unfair price. And I didn’t want to be banned from returning to Spain. So I paid and I left with my things.

After catching the train into town and checking in at the hotel, I started unpacking, and as I’m sitting here looking at my things, it hit me. Why would the transmitter be the only thing missing? It was secured to the body with a lot of duct tape, and being lightweight, there’s no way it would have fallen off. Then I realized the tape was gone as well, and that the damaged leg is the one where the wires are routed through (see photos). The only way this could have happened is if someone forcibly tore at the wires and the transmitter. And *then* it dawned on me that my tablet is also missing – also something with GPS tracking capabilities, and the potential (with the right software) to be traced.

I’ve also just now reviewed my GoPro videos, and the last video is of me pulling in exactly where I thought I had, two spaces down from the same badly parked car on Calle Cartagena that I took a photo of. So it turns out I’m not delusional.

So what actually happened? Here’s my theory: After stealing the car, the thief noticed the GPS unit on the seat, got to thinking of tracking devices, and decided to see what else was in the car. So he pulled over and opened the trunk. He proceeded to open my backpack (containing everything else I had), and messed with my camera, looked at my photos (it was halfway through the set when I turned it on), and proceeded to fumble and drop it, damaging the lens. He put it back, then pulled out the drone… And saw the transmitter and antenna. He panicked, thinking it might be tracking the car and he was about to be caught. He tried to pry off the gimbal unit with a screwdriver, and only partially succeeding, he tore off the transmitter and threw it away or took it with him. He did the same with the tablet, again realizing the threat of being traced. He hurried to abandon the car, leaving everything else behind. The car then sat (luckily) unperturbed for weeks until the police happened to notice the excess of tickets and realized it was stolen.

This accounts for the damage, the relatively short distance from where the car started, and the fact that it hadn’t moved in a long time. It also explains why the two items that are missing were taken, while everything else was left behind. But now, is it worth pursuing?”

Nov 5, 2015:
“Tried to open a case with Chase bank to contest and investigate the €800 rental charge in Spain for the recovered stolen car, since the company never provided me with proof of their theft insurance policy, or proof of the assertion that their policy wouldn’t cover losses incurred due to the theft in this case.

Unfortunately, Chase said they can’t retract the charge and can’t do anything to help me, since I recognized and approved the charge previously. Even though I’m arguing that this involves a potential misrepresentation of services, maybe even insurance fraud on the part of the merchant, the bank can’t (or simply won’t) help me. Fun. I guess it’s time to suck it up and let it go…

Tried to open a case with Chase bank to contest and investigate the €800 rental charge in Spain for the recovered stolen car, since the company never provided me with proof of their theft insurance policy, or proof of the assertion that their policy wouldn’t cover losses incurred due to the theft in this case.

Unfortunately, Chase said they can’t retract the charge and can’t do anything to help me, since I recognized and approved the charge previously. Even though I’m arguing that this involves a potential misrepresentation of services, maybe even insurance fraud on the part of the merchant, the bank can’t (or simply won’t) help me. Fun. I guess it’s time to suck it up and let it go…”

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