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 Angelina (not her real name) called me on my cell phone.  I was in my home office here in San Francisco. She wanted me to help her with a problem in Hawaii. She was willing to pay for my consulting time. She brought in a three inch tall pile of color photographs of her Hawaiian House to my garden level office here on Santa Rosa Avenue. There were photos of the power pole with 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 away from the house, staying in New York, helping a sick relative and yet her electric bills in her Hawaii house were higher than when she lived there! She wanted me to investigate and document my findings. I was interested. I said “Yes I can do that.” We talked for two hours and then she paid me for my time and went on her way after telling me she will get back to me later. Weeks went by and I did not hear anything more, so I wondered if she had changed her mind and I more or less forgot about her offer.

About three weeks later she called to say the arrangements were made and could 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. 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.

Angelina picked me up at the Honolulu Airport. In her car she graciously offered me the choice of riding  to Waikiki via the freeway or the 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 parking garage entrance and up to a high-rise parking ramp that took us around and around and around, and 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 already on the 10th floor of the condominium tower. We tool the elevator up to the 21st floor. We had a fine view of the Alawai Canal, Manoa Valley and St Louis Heights.  Very nice and unexpected.

She gave me a free day before the day were we were scheduled to go to the house 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 got 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. Ten it was back down out of the valley and up to the top of St. Louis Heights where there is a wonderful park with a view of Manoa Valley. It is Warhal Park. There were a bunch of cigarette butts on the dirt around the pick-nick table. I felt compelled to pick them up and throw them in the garbage can since it was such a nice, beautiful park. Then I drove down the hill to the University of Hawaii where there is a Mansion on the hill farther up the valley behind the UH. It is the place I had stayed in when I lived in Hawaii for seven years from 1961-1968. Finally I drove down to Honolulu and around the side of Punch Bowl and then up the curvy road around Mount Tantalus. The curves are great to circle around when I had a motorcycle during my time living in Hawaii. Lots of old  memories flooded back, all of them good.

The next day Angelina drove us to the house. We left Waikiki towards Diamond Head and then turned inland and drove up in to a residential neighborhood. At the house I did a lot of looking around. Some things were unusual to say the least!

CAKE FLOWER ON THE FLOOR

Power on the floor shows foot prints.
Power on the floor shows foot prints.

Angelina had been worried about someone coming in to her house while she was gone so she sprinkled flour on the floor so she could tell if someone came in by the footprints.  Of course it made quite a bit of a mess to clean up. She told me some one had previously jimmied the door locks so she had them changed to high security Mdeco locks.

When we looked in the closet her clothes were still covered with the clear plastic covers that you get from the cleaners, but some someone had pulled them up as if they were looking through the closet for the best thing 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 electric meter for the downstairs apartment was on the side of the house. The meter for the main house is in back. (Photo) I looked around in the crawl space underneath the house. There was knob and tube wiring running around. It came down from her meter and ran forward to power the floor plugs in her house. It all looked normal. 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.

Angelina 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 thought of 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 ares, a young man came out from the lower unit. I immediately suspected him. He stuck his head out of the door that led into the dirt floor laundry area underneath the house. He merely said hello and popped back inside. That was just a little disconcerting since he looked like a surfer he probably had reason to try to save on his power bill and he was probably 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. 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 where the knob and tube wires had been extensively wrapped with modern plastic electrical tape, not the “friction tape” that was used in the old days.

 

I noticed the wire cable running to the hot water heater for the basement unit was long enough to reach 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. Angelina asked me to take scads and scads (hundreds) of pictures all around the house and the grounds. 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 so not much happened and the police men said “Since nothing happened there is nothing to report.” Angelina was not happy with me.  She wanted something on paper.

I assumed Angelina would do something about the power theft. I asked her if she was going to act on it and she said yes she was.

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 was that I would be prepared to document what I saw and and 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.

She hired 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 locks were too expensive to leave behind so we called a locksmith. It was almost dark on a Friday evenings after 5 PM and the only the locksmith we could find was coming from the other side of the. We waited for the locksmith who finally arrived after dark. During the wait there was no furniture to sit on 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, rode out to Diamond Head and on the way back I went out to the sandy parking area in front of some of the hotels. I returned via Kapiolani Park and the Alawai 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 2016  It took place October 16-21, 2012

 

 

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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