Too bad the saga of Bert and the burglar can’t be like one of those corny TV police dramas, where everything gets tied up in a neat bow.
The case had such a positive start.
Shortly after her antiques-filled cabin in the north woods was plundered last October, Spokane’s Bert McInturff rejected the usual passive victim’s role.
The trim, iron-willed secretary at Eastern State Hospital slipped on her gumshoes, took three days off from work and became a Sherlock Holmes.
She hit pay dirt scouring Spokane collectible shops.
There was her oak table with the curled legs. There was the lawyer’s bookcase with leaded glass windows and a number of other items.
Bert got back not quite half of the $10,000 worth of antiques, guns and household items stolen.
More than the goods, Bert got a suspect.
The canny antique dealers demanded photo identification from the man who sold Bert’s treasures. One dealer, suspicious of the guy, jotted down his license plate.
Bert immediately recognized the name as someone she had trusted for 20 years. The man, she says, performed odd jobs at her Bead Lake cabin, 65 miles north in Pend Oreille County.
And here is where the saga of Bert and the burglar bogs down in the dysfunctional quicksand of reality.
Two months after the heist, no charges have been filed. Bert blames the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office and the prosecuting attorney for not doing near enough to nail the culprit and for treating her like a dog.
“They say all the right words, but they never had any intention of doing anything,” she says. With a look of distaste, Bert says she lumps both the thief and the indolent sheriff’s office “in the same category.”
The hard feelings are definitely mutual.
Undersheriff Dick Arend has more unkind words for this taxpaying victim than he does for the suspect, who was in the Pend Oreille County Jail on an unrelated Idaho drug warrant.
“Nobody moved fast enough for her,” grouses Arend. “She wouldn’t listen to any explanation we had.”
Arend pauses. “I think we did exceptionally well, regardless of what she says.”
The hard truth is that the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office is a cash-poor, shoestring operation.
There are just a dozen officers, including the sheriff, to keep watch over 1,400 rugged square miles - a land mass just shy of Rhode Island in size.
Another hard truth is that Bert’s burglary is not the cakewalk it appears to be. It is a convoluted mess.
“I got a guy who lives in Idaho supposedly stealing stuff in Pend Oreille County and selling it in Spokane,” says Ron Layton, the department’s lone investigator.
“But I can’t prove this guy actually did the burglary. I have nothing that puts him in the cabin. So you can see that this is a thrill a minute.”
Layton is working on two murders and all the other crimes you’d expect an investigator to investigate. Yet he says he’s spent more time trying to crack Bert’s burglary than any case except the killings.
Why? “I had a definite lead on him,” he says. “I though I had him.”
So far, Layton says he has nothing to charge the suspect with in Pend Oreille County. The investigator’s best shot is to convince Spokane police to go after the man for possessing stolen goods here.
Even if that happens, it won’t ease the bad blood between Bert and the Pend Oreille law.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” says Layton, his voice a sarcastic sneer. “Every call with her (Bert) is a hang up. Boom!”
Bert counters angrily: “Layton told me to quit playing Miss Detective and let them do their job.”
Nope. The saga of Bert and the burglar is definitely no saccharin TV show.
“I went up to the cabin after the burglary and cleaned up the broken glass and I haven’t been back since,” says Bert sadly. “There’s nothing up there to go back to.”