Amateur sleuth checkmates burglar

By SCOTT MacLEOD

When a burglar stole a computer holding three years' work, the owner's first thought was "I'll get you".

The Auckland University academic used magazines and a game of chess to trap a criminal and retrieve the stolen goods.

A university window was found smashed on May 28, and cameras and computer gear valued at $15,000 were missing. The biggest loss was a Macintosh PowerBook holding three years' research data.

The one-man sting started with advertisements in the Trade and Exchange and Loot magazines saying "Macintosh Powerbook G3 urgently required".

The computer owner then took most of a day off work and calledsecond-hand shops under a false name. Just as that was getting tedious, he received a reply to one of his advertisements: The caller would sell a PowerBook for $1500.

The victim and two friends drove to the man's house, where a clean-cut looking man showed him a computer. It was not the stolen one - but it did have some software the academic recognised as his.

He sent his friends to "get the money" - in fact, they alerted police.

Meanwhile, the amateur sleuth asked if there were any other PowerBooks. The "seller" pulled the stolen computer out of a drawer, saying he couldn't sell it yet because it was crammed with data that had to be wiped.

The owner, anxious that the data not be wiped, and stalling for time until the police arrived, challenged his mark to a game of chess.

What followed was farce. The laptop owner played so that he was always just losing, but with enough pieces left to prolong the game.

"I needed to keep him occupied - giving him enough advantage to keep his interest while never waiting too long," he said.

After 40 minutes, three policemen knocked at the door. Their target jumped out of a window, eluding police dogs and a helicopter.

Henderson police yesterday confirmed the events. They are hunting the man, who has a long criminal past.

But the amateur detective is happy to have his property back.

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