Barry Lyn Stoller, a drywaller who disappeared more than three years ago after cashing a mistaken $98,002 refund check for a $1.99 box of Ex-Lax, has finally been caught after allegedly trying to steal two packs of cigarettes from a grocery store.
Stoller, 40, was arrested two weeks ago just miles from his last known address. He is being held in the King County Jail on $50,000 bond. He pleaded not guilty to first-degree theft in connection with the Ex-Lax charge.
Officers responded to the Panther Lake Albertsons in South King County where Stoller was scuffling with store security employees over cigarettes they said he stole, said King County Police spokeswoman Joanne Elledge. Officers said Stoller looked “scruffy,” as if he had been living on the streets.
When Stoller’s name was punched into the police computer, the years-old theft warrant popped up.
Stoller, a former $15-an-hour drywaller, wrote a Sept. 6, 1993, letter to New Jersey-based Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, asking the laxative maker to reimburse him for the $1.99 price of a package he had purchased.
“Dear Ex-Lax,” Stoller wrote. “I took the pills at bedtime but it did not have any effect by 8 a.m. morning, or 8 p.m. that day. I would appreciate the refund of $1.99.”
The company quickly issued a refund, but its new computer system mistakenly made out the check based not on the price but on Stoller’s ZIP code 98002.
King County prosecutors say Stoller deposited the check in his savings account and returned eight days later, withdrawing the money along with his other savings for a total of about $114,000. He took it in cash and vanished.
The company hired a private investigator, hoping to take care of the error quietly and quickly. But three months later, with no leads, the investigator reported the incident to police. He told them Stoller had quit his job, moved out of his apartment and left no forwarding address.
A bank officer eventually identified Stoller as the man who cashed the $98,002 check.
Stoller, who had no criminal record and lived alone, became news across the country.
No trial date has been set.
Prosecutors accuse him of “appropriating misdelivered property.” If convicted, Stoller faces a standard jail sentence of up to three months, and restitution.