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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: Two 22-year-olds pulled off one of ‘the most clever’ car thefts police had seen

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 12, 2021

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives )
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives )

Two “boys,” age 22, were nabbed for operating a sophisticated car-theft ring in Spokane and throughout the Northwest.

“The boys are two of the most clever automobile thieves with whom we have ever come in contact,” the detective who arrested them said. “They have stolen cars from Spokane, Seattle, Portland and Butte, and as near as we can tell, they have taken 20 or more cars.”

The young men had developed what was nearly a foolproof M.O.: They would steal the serial plate number off the floor of any Dodge car they found at the curb, put the plate in an envelope and write down the engine number of the same car.

Then they would put the stolen serial plate number on a stolen car and alter the engine number so it would correspond to the serial number.

They carried with them all of the tools needed to alter the engine numbers, including a set of dyes exactly like the ones used at the Dodge factory. They were so good at it that Dodge mechanics told police they were convinced that they were the original factory numbers.

The scheme unraveled after car-theft squads of various Northwest police departments noticed a rash of stolen cars and began comparing notes. That’s when they realized that cars were being stolen and driven to different cities and sold. Eventually, with the cooperation of several police departments, they were able to uncover the serial number ruse.

The young men, one of whom was from Spokane, were arrested in Seattle. Four cars were subsequently recovered in Spokane.

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