Inspiration, Luck or Diligence?
Sometimes in law enforcement work, inspiration and diligence play hand and hand with a little helping of good fortune and luck for a recipe of a job well done. So it was for me one afternoon.
There was a bank 211 (hold-up) two blocks from the San Rafael Police Department across from the old Marin Independent Journal (IJ) Building (at Fifth and B Streets). Fellow Investigator Tony (Hoke) and myself responded. We canvassed the area and eventually made contact with a workman at the rear loading dock of the IJ. He said he saw a male run down the alley behind the IJ, jump into a brown colored conversion van with an oval window on the side and drive away.
I walked down the alley in the direction the witness said he saw the van parked. There were no other vehicles parked here and the street wasn’t covered with a lot of debris. As I walked, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until I neared the approximate location stated by the witness. My attention was drawn to a piece of paper on the sidewalk and for some unknown reason I picked it up. I recognized it as a parking lot stub with a license plate number written on it.
Here is where the good fortune and luck come into play. It looked like all alley fodder but something told me to keep it, hold on to it as one never knows–does one?
After clearing the area of any further clues, I returned to the office and told Tony what I had found and how I kept it for no evidentiary reasons. I ran a 10-28 and 10-29 on the license I found on the parking stub and it came back clear for stolen or warrants. It was the usual license found on a passenger vehicle, not like those commercial ones issued to vans or trucks. The vehicle was registered to a male in the East Bay having just a make but no model, color or type.
I had the dispatcher attempt to get an address and or phone number for the registered owner. Some time later, dispatch informed me that the registered owner had been contacted and stated he used it as a trade-in for another car at a dealership. Dispatch also told me the owner described the vehicle as an older brown conversion van with an oval window on the side that had a license plate number the same as the one I located on the parking stub.
Dispatch obtained the name of the dealership and made contact with the sales person who stated he loaned the vehicle to an acquaintance and it was not on the lot. We obtained the name and address of the person in possession of the truck at this time.
In those days, all bank robberies were investigated by the FBI. Today, they are investigated by the jurisdiction in which the robbery occurred. The FBI in this case came to our office after taking the initial report and we shared all the information that we had accumulated regarding a possible vehicle involved. They ran a check on the name given as the last person to possess the vehicle and they responded with information that this person had a prior record of bank robberies and lived in the East Bay.
The FBI advised they were now enroute to the East Bay to look for this person of interest and wanted to know if we were interested in going along. Now what red-blooded law enforcement officer would turn down an offer like this to ride with the FBI to capture a bank robber?
We drove to the East Bay and as we approached the house, a broad smile crossed my face; for sitting in front of the house was an older brown conversion van, with an oval window on the side and the same license number I found on the parking stub.
Divine inspiration??? Divine luck??? Due diligence??? A little of everything???
I’d make a good cook or what???
Woody Hoke began his law enforcement career
in the early 1970’s with San Rafael Police,
then Sausalito PD. He has graciously agreed
to share some of his memories of those days.
See more about Woody Hoke, Jr. on Facebook.