March 7, 1996 in City

Cast-Off Items Up For Grabs Police Hold Auctions To Clear Out Old Evidence, Unclaimed Goods

By The Spokesman-Review
 

This tiny room is the gathering place for wayward jumper cables with a criminal past and an Easter basket cradling a shoplifted bunny.

There’s also a stolen pool cue. A homeless wheelchair. A customized skateboard with a bumper sticker proclaiming “Skateboarding is not a crime.” A yellowed computer monitor. A machete. A weed-whacker.

It’s all evidence in crimes or unclaimed items turned over to Spokane Police or the Spokane Sheriff’s Department. On Saturday, everything must go, auctioned off to the highest bidders.

Police property specialist Phyllis Costello gives the hard sell as she hawks her goods.

“That eagle is real heavy,” said Costello, pointing to a statue. “He’s not going to fly away.”

Goods are auctioned off about every two months. Six workers first try to find the owners. Unclaimed items can be auctioned after 90 days. Evidence can be sold 30 days after detectives release it.

Proceeds of up to $5,000 per sale are funneled back into the coffers of Spokane County law enforcement.

Auction items are stored in a tiny corner room and spill into a larger storage area.

A couple of hundred bidders attend each sale. Saturday’s auction will start at 9 a.m. in the property room, 1307 W. Gardner.

Workers remember certain customers fondly. There’s the jewelry buyer. The knife guy. The regulars who bring lawn chairs so they can have front row seats. Kids clutching allowance money to bid on bikes, which cost from a buck to $325.

People who like garage sales will love this. There’ll be 60 bicycles, eight scales, five drills, three light fixtures, two floor jacks and a shirt.

“It’s kind of like a flea market,” said police spokesman Dick Cottam.

Some of the fleas have been trapped for years, evidence of old crimes that has only recently been tagged for sale. Tools from a 1987 burglary. A knife from 1986 and another from ‘85.

The Easter basket is a conglomerate, a decorating effort by Costello. The basket comes with unclaimed purple tissue paper, a stuffed Tasmanian Devil, a pink wooden creature and the handcrafted bunny. The creature and bunny were stolen April 14, 1993, from a crafts fair.

Other auction items include sporting gear. A tent and a sleeping bag rest in the corner, next to a bag of bats and baseballs.

There are fixings for a car: a case of motor oil, three radar detectors, a set of hubcaps, six cassette decks.

Then there’s music: a compact-disc carrying case with selections from Meatloaf, Megadeth and AC-DC; CD jewel cases for Tori Amos and the soundtrack of “Days of Thunder,” covered with black fingerprint dusting powder.

“Careful with that,” Costello said. “You’ll get it on your clothes.”

There’s more to be careful with: 10 BB pistols, two pellet rifles, a cross-bow pistol and a compound bow.

Some of the items sent to the property room would only fit in an auction for “The Addams Family.” Once there was a single mothball, evidence in a domestic violence case. Another time there was a human spleen.

“It was in a baggy,” said Shirley Rice, a police property specialist. “It looked like liver from a grocery store. That’s my favorite story to tell people, about the melted spleen.”

And there are other body parts.

“We got a foot in here one time” courtesy of a man who found it while cleaning his garage, Costello said. “It was in a glass jar about that high. It was cut off at the ankle.”

It wasn’t auctioned. The coroner’s office grabbed it.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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