A Theft of Electricity with Photographs

My all-expenses-paid work trip to Hawaii in October 2012
Looking out the jetliner window on the way to Hawaii.
Looking out the jetliner window on the way to Hawaii.

This is a “Who Done it  mystery.”

A pretty young woman from Saipan named AJ (not her real name) called me on my cell phone.  I was in my home office  in San Francisco. She wanted me to help her with a problem in Hawaii. She was willing to pay for my consulting time. When she came to my office she brought a three inch pile of color photographs of her rented house in Hawaii. She came to my home office here on Santa Rosa Avenue. There were many many photos. Pix of the power pole, the transformer, the wires to the house, the electric meters, the wires under the eaves and on the outside of the house and on and on. She offered to pay my way to Oahu to investigate the theft of her electricity. I asked her why don’t you have a local electrician solve the problem? Her response was “Oh no, Hawaii is very small place.”

She had been temporarily staying in New York, to help a sick relative. She wanted to know why her electric bills in Hawaii were higher than when she lived there! She wanted me to go to Hawaii and investigate and document my findings. I was interested. I said “Yes I can do that.” We talked for two hours here in my office and she paid me for my time and went on her way. She told me she will get back to me later. Weeks went by and I did not hear anything, so I wondered if she had changed her mind. I more or less forgot about her and a free trip to Hawaii.

Weeks later she called to say the arrangements were made. “Can I leave in four days from now?” She assured my wife Cathy that she would take good care of me and that Cathy’s interests were foremost in her mind and “I would be protected”. (Smile) I cleared it with Cathy and the next day Angelina sent an email with the airplane tickets, so I started getting ready to go to Hawaii, a place that I love.

It is only a 5:25 hour flight. Angelina picked me up at the Honolulu Airport in her car. She graciously offered me the choice of riding to Waikiki via the H1 freeway or the old highway scenic route. I chose the scenic route. She was good at pointing out the places of interest along the way. In Waikiki we drove in the entrance to the parking garage (around and around and around,) up the parking garage ramp. Finally we parked in her spot and walked to the elevator.

We were on the 8th floor of the garage but when we entered the elevator and I was surprised to find that we were actually on the 10th floor of the adjacent condominium tower. We took the elevator up to the 21st floor. There was a fine view of the Ala Wai Canal, Manoa Valley and St Louis Heights. It was a very nice rented condo and unexpectedly upscale.

I was surprised when she offered me a “free day” on my own. We were we were scheduled to go to the house the next day when my job would be to look for evidence of power theft.

I was surprised and glad to find out that I was able to be a tourist for a day. Even more shocking was the fact that she let me borrow her car. As you can imagine if I had gotten into an accident and was injured, she would be stuck with taking care of me, so I was very thankful and careful about driving her car.

I drove up to Manoa Falls, parked and hiked all the way up to the waterfall itself. Then it was back down out of the valley and up to the top of St. Louis Heights where there the Warhal Park has a wonderful view of Manoa Valley.  It is so nice there that I felt compelled to pick a bunch of cigarette butts and throw them in the garbage can since it was such a beautiful place. Then I drove down the mountain to the University of Hawaii. On the hill up in the valley behind the UH there is a Mansion. I stayed for almost a year during the seven years when I lived in Hawaii 1961-1968.

I continued to play tourist as I drove down to Honolulu and around the side of Punch Bowl There is a curvy road that goes up and around Mount Tantalus in a long drive with lots of greenery . The curves were great to ride when I lived there. I had a motorcycle then. Lots of old  memories flooded back, all of them good.

The next day AJ drove us to the house. We left Waikiki and drove out east past Diamond Head. We turned inland and drove up in to a residential neighborhood to her rented home. I did a lot of looking around. Some things were unusual to say the least!

WHY WAS THERE CAKE FLOWER ON THE FLOOR?

Power on the floor shows foot prints.
Why is powder on the floor?

Aj told me she had been worried about someone coming in to her house while she was gone, so she sprinkled flour on the floor. Her thinking was that way if someone came in while she was away, they would leave footprints. She told me she was going to move out and would I help her? Of course it made quite a bit of a mess to clean up since she was moving out. She told me some one had previously jimmied the door locks so she had them changed to high security Medeco locks.

When we looked in the closet, her clothes were still covered with the clear plastic covers that you get from the cleaners. Why were the covers pulled up? Was someone looking through the closet for the best cloths to steal?

The upstairs meter on the back of the house. When we turned off all the breakers, the lower renters turned them back on when we were away. This shows that they were tapped on to for the lower unit.
The upstairs meter on the back of the house. When we turned off all the breakers, the lower renters turned them back on when we were away. This shows that they were tapped on to for the lower unit.

The downstairs unit had it’s electric meter on the side of the house. It looked like it had been added or “cut in”. The main meter for the upstairs original house is in back. (Photo) Why the meters not located together like is normal and usual? I carefully poked around in the crawl space underneath the house. No one was home in the lower unit. It looked like it was added much later than the original house. I saw knob and tube wires running around is what was like a crawl space in back of the lower unit. The wires came down from her meter and ran forward towards he lower unit. They were powering the floor plugs above. It all looked normal. Why was her power bill so high if she was not home for several months? She pointed out some PVC conduit on the other side of the yard that she thought was suspicious but it looked like garden sprinkler pipes to me. She was disappointed.

AJ asked me how was I doing and I said “I am having trouble finding any evidence of theft.” She told me “Don’t look for where it was done, look for how you would do it if you were going to steal the power.” That gave me new insight. As soon as I looked for a way to steal the power, I found out how it may have been done.

Each renter has a plug but it is easy to use the other one.
Each renter has a plug but it is easy to use the other one.

Each clothes dryer has a male plug cord cap and a 220V wall plug. It is very easy to switch the upstairs dryer plug into the downstairs receptacle and vice versa. But of course this doesn’t leave any evidence.

As I was poking around in back of the basement apartment laundry areas, when (surprise) a young man popped out from the lower unit. He just stuck his head out of the door that led into the dirt floor laundry area underneath the house. I immediately suspected him. He merely said hello and popped back inside. That was just a little disconcerting, since he looked like a surfer, (something like a starving artist?) he probably had reason to try to save on his power bill. Maybe he was involved in the power theft?

Alternativly . . .
Rolls of toilet paper in the joists were supposed to hide the evidence.

I continued inspecting the knob & tube wiring when my eyes were drawn to some rolls of toilet paper tucked up between the floor joists. That is odd, I thought. I pulled down a roll or two and saw that the knob and tube wires had modern plastic electrical tape, covering a place that not have any reason to be there since there was no “tap” or splice. The tap was not the “friction tape” that was used on the rest of the original wiring from the old days.

 

I noticed the hot water heater had a cable long enough to reach tap in to the knob & tube lines from the upstairs meter.

The orange Romex was used to restore the hot water power to the proper meter.
The orange Romex was used to restore the hot water power to the proper meter.It could be easily switched on to the other meter buy simply pulling out the staples and swinging the wire over and tapping it onto the open wiring (It runs like a clothes line) coming from Angelina’s meter. Anyone with simple tools could strip off the insulation and tap onto the upstairs knob & tube circuit and get free power. Ah-ha! I started taking pictures while hoping the down stairs renter would not reappear.

The next day we returned to find a padlock on the door to the laundry area underneath the house. AJ asked me to take scads and scads (hundreds) of pictures all around the house and the grounds. I am an ex-professional photographer, but this is getting ridiculous, why so many?

When we were both there that evening the surfer boy confronted her and said “You can’t take pictures of my house.” I told him “It’s not your house, it is our house too and we can take any pictures we want.” He got kind of abusive and in Angela’s face, so she called the Honolulu Police. They showed up fairly quickly. I did not know that Angelina wanted a report to be filed so I tried to settle things down and not much happened and the police man said “Since nothing happened here, there is nothing to report.” AJ was not happy with me.  She wanted something on paper.

I assumed AJ would do something about the power theft. I asked her if she was going to act on it and she said yes she was. i still haven’t seen any action. Why not?

The first page of a three page agreement that she wrote out on my last day. I signed it, but nothing came of it.
The first page of a three page agreement that she wrote out on my last day. I signed it, but nothing came of it.

Back at the condo she drew up a really long handwritten agreement and had me sign it. The point of it was that I was to be prepared to document what I saw and and to testify but nothing ever came of it. Oh well, sometimes you have to let things go. It’s too bad, because she’s a very nice young lady and she was taken advantage of. She wanted to do everything correctly to the extent that she even purchased a brand new refrigerator when the old one stopped working while she was away. She did not even ask the landlord to help pay for it. I asked why not> nswer – Hawaii is a very small place. translation. She wanted to maintain a squeaky clean reputation.

She hired a family of house cleaners to make the place super clean so the landlord would be happy and the records would show she received all of her security deposit with no deductions or pretensions. After the cleaners finished she realized the Medeco locks were too expensive to leave behind so we called a locksmith. It was almost dark, on a Friday evening after 5 PM and the only the locksmith we could find was coming from the other side of the Island. We waited for the locksmith who finally arrived after dark. During the wait there was no furniture so we stretched out side-by-side on the hardwood floor and as the Hawaiians say, we “Talked story” to pass the time.

The next day was a free day and I rented a bicycle and toured Waikiki. I rode out to Diamond Head. On the way back I went out to the sandy parking area in front of some of the hotels that face the ocean. I returned via Kapiolani Park and the Ala Wai Canal. I remember sitting on one of the benches and relishing the Hawaiian sunshine and the good feeling of being in Hawaii.

(C) John A. Peters 2020  It took place October 16-21, 2012.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “A Theft of Electricity with Photographs”

  1. John,
    You’re a gem. I’m amayzed at what some folks will do to get free electricity!
    Nice to meet you today.
    Cynthia

  2. In the beginning of the story, did Angelina show you the three inch pile of pictures in person? I hadn’t realized that she was out in San Francisco. I though you had only spoken on the phone before heading out to Hawaii.

    Overall, good story!

  3. Very interesting story. I was left with a big question about why she didn’t do anything about the electricity theft? Also instead of writing in a linear way, I would be more engaged if you gave me tidbits of the evidence and then described how you found them. This could make a great mystery story.

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