It seems that one of the facts I disclosed about myself in this post caused quite a stir among some folks. To hopefully put various minds at ease (and not fuel dangerous rumors), here is a brief telling of how one ordinary December day, I became a (short-lived) suspect in an armed robbery case.
I was living alone in the city, and didn’t have very many friends. A work colleague/mentor knew I was lonely and feeling like an outsider, so once a month or so she would invite me to do something with her. Our activities ranged from checking out a new restaurant, to attending a Mary Kay “party”, to spending Thanksgiving with her family. In December, she invited me to see a holiday play staged by semi-professional actors at one of the many churches in the area. The church was nearly an hour away from my apartment, but I didn’t have other plans, so I agreed to go to the play with her. (I was very grateful for her thoughtful invitations, and made an effort to accept them as much as I could.)
On a cold, snowy winter Friday I drove my very average, nondescript car to a rural suburb, met my friend inside a very average-looking church, and sat through a 3-hour meal/theater event. When I returned to my car (which was in the same general area I remembered leaving it), I was a little surprised that my driver’s side door was unlocked. Usually I’m very diligent about keeping my car secure – but whatever. I figured I must not have wanted my locks to freeze [a very real possibility with an older vehicle in a frigid climate], so I had decided to be safe and leave the doors unlocked. Fine.
Getting into the vehicle, I sat down – and noticed that my seat felt like it was a little further away from the steering wheel than usual. But, I had also changed shoes before entering the church (swapping out my clunky boots for dainty heels), so I thought the difference I was experiencing was due to the switch in footwear. Not thinking too much more about it, I moved the seat forward one click, turned my key into the ignition to start the car, and headed home.
I spent the weekend doing normal stuff (laundry, groceries, reading, running), and on Monday morning headed into the office as usual. By 10 am I was elbow-deep in writing and approving purchase orders, when my phone rang. Handling numerous phone calls was also a common Monday morning work task, so I semi-mindlessly answered the phone with my standard greeting, “Hello, [company name], Intimate Apparel department. This is Stef.”
After a slight pause, a man cleared his throat, then asked, “Hello, is this Stefanie [middle name, last name]?”
The use of my full name, coupled with the serious tone of the man, caught my attention. I removed my hands from the keyboard, and turned my entire body towards the phone. “Um, yeah,” I responded.
The man continued, “Do you drive a red 1996 Subaru?”
Thinking that this was an attendant from the lot where I parked every day while at work, I nervously answered, “Yeah, why? What’s wrong with it?”
Ignoring my question, the man pressed on, “Were you in the area of [rural suburb] this past Friday around 8 pm?”
This question threw me. I now suspected I was not speaking to a guy down the street – but I had no idea who was on the other end of the line. A little stunned, I didn’t know what to say except to answer truthfully, “Yes, I was.”
“Mmm-hmm,” the man confirmed. “And is the license plate to your car 327 XYD?”
Still completely baffled by what was going on, I responded, “Actually, my license plate is 327 XYB – as in ‘Boy’. Why? What’s going on?”
Keeping the question stream one-sided, the man pressed on, “Ma’am, do you have an alibi for where were you this past Friday at 8 pm?”
At the use of the word ‘alibi’, I deduced I was speaking to a police officer – but I had absolutely no idea why. I decided to make this the last question I answered: “Yes, I do. I was at Grace Church, watching their annual Christmas play. There were seven other people at my table, and at least 100 other people at the event. Now, tell me, what is going on?” I added some ‘oomph’ to my voice to that last question, for extra measure.
The man replied, “Well, Stef, you see, there is a convenience store half-a-mile west of that church – and at 8 pm this past Friday, a woman matching your physical description, driving a red 1996 Subaru with vehicle license plates 327 XYD, held up a clerk and stole money from the cash registers. Now, I pulled your file before I called you, and given that you don’t have any prior criminal record, I thought it seemed strange that you might be involved in this incident. Still, the facts do line up kind of coincidentally – so I’m glad to hear that you have an alibi. If you can give me the name and number of a few people sitting at that table with you on Friday, I’ll go ahead and confirm that your story checks out – and if everyone agrees that you were at the church all evening, then everything should be just fine. So why don’t you go ahead and give me those names and numbers now?”
My head spinning, I weakly uttered the names of two colleagues who attended the church play with me, and scrambled to find their business extensions in our company directory. After the officer took down the information on his end, his tone changed, and I could feel him smiling kindly at me through the phone as he finished our call with, “Thank you – this should be all of the information I need. Like I said, if this checks out, then we should be all set. Okay? Have a nice day now. Bye bye.” And with that, he hung up.
I immediately walked down the hallway to the cubicle where my two alibi-confirming friends were seated, and recounted a brief version of this story to them, ending with, “So, um, you might be getting a call from the police department in the next day or so, I guess…?” They were just as stunned as I was – until one of them said, “Wait, Stef – do you think maybe this is just some joke someone is playing on you?”
I had actually wondered the same thing myself – but too many strange ‘coincidences’ seemed to converge around this event: the car door being unlocked when I thought I had locked it; the seat feeling like it was in a different spot from where I had positioned it; the car itself seeming like it was in a different parking space from the one I left it in (the vehicle was in the same general area I remember putting it – but I thought I left it more towards the right of the parking lot versus where I found it at the end of the evening); the very-close license plate number; and the fact that an armed robbery was reported in the Saturday paper for a convenience store half-a-mile down the road from the church, occurring around 8 pm the night before, by a small Caucasian woman with dark brown hair driving a red Subaru.
Interestingly, later in the week my two friends/alibi-providers told me that the police never did call them. Perhaps the police found the real robber, and therefore didn’t need to pursue me any further as a potential suspect? Or perhaps the entire thing really was a very clever (and elaborate) joke? Whatever the situation, it’s been a full 13 years since that snowy winter night; and in the space from then to now, I’ve successfully changed my name (due to marriage) and have passed a full criminal screening (to receive a state-issued teaching license) – so I think I’m “fine” from a legal perspective. These days, the story is simply an interesting one as far as I’m concerned; my own “15 minutes of fame” – or infamy, I suppose. 🙂