EPISODE109 BIG TIME ROBBERY AND REPERCUSSIONS
“ALAN, did you know the front door of the farm is wide open?”
(Said Tim Rock, a neighbour)
“No, thanks, we’ll get right up there.”
It was mid March. Slushy farm roads, lots of fog and moonless night.
“We have been robbed big time, Marjorie.”
I had hoped the door was just
ajar. That would be my fault but I had at the same time sinking feeling that my
troubles could be a lot worse than that. Break and enter robbery. Our family farm house had
been stripped by robbers who just took their time from about
mid-night until the small hours of that dark March evening.. How do I know they took their time?
Because the dishes and crockery were sorted carefully on the farmhouse floor. Those rejected were
in piles.. The good stuff was gone.
They, I assume more than 1 person, were so confident that they even stole
my trailer to load the big things. Just backed the trailer up to the front door
after filling their truck with the smaller things like the dishes. Imagine that
…they used my trailer. That meant they must have known the trailer was
parked under the big maples. Our farm had been ‘cased’…someone had
noted the farm house was vulnerable. That’s what professional thieves do…
they carefully case a target then strike when least likely to be noticed. If anyone
did notice they might even say “Alan’s working late tonight…has his trailer
backed up to the front door.” A good thief exudes confidence.
Eric and I spent much of our lives on the Freeman farm. The farm marked us indelibly. Eric on the right.
Our grandparents, Ed and Louisa Freeman, had died years
earlier around 1958. Mom and dad had recently passed on.
We tried to keep the house as they had left it…like
Miss Havisham’s house described by Charles Dickens in Great Expectations.
But a happy place not miserable. It would take a lot of money to fix up the house
which had been built in the 1870’s and showed its age.
The main room was the kitchen
where the wood stove made winters livable. The thieves managed
to get the huge flatback kitchen cupboard out the front door into
my trailer. No easy task. It was six to seven feet high with shelves
and doors and even a built in mirror. This was where Grandma kept
the things she prized most. Gone. We had never emptied it ourselves
so could hardly make an insurance claim.
The really big pieces of furniture were in the living room. A room rarely used.
Those large family reunions were gone before mom had kids. The room
was well finished all the same. What I missed
immediately was the dark varnished long cupboard that always
smelled of cookies because grandma kept them there for Eric and I to gorge
upon on our week end visits from the city. Gone.
I suppose the most valuable piece they got was the huge heavy pedestal table…
with inserts should a grand party be organized. That table was filled with home
cooking on the day in 1937 mom and dad were married in that room. Lots of fine
memories of that victorian jewel. Mom told us that Dad’s brothers were busy
in the cellar while the wedding feast was underway…laid out on the big table.. Uncles Norman, Archie,
Art and maybe even John from Saskatchewan…and Uncle Ernest who was really a cousin…
all of them were busy dumping
out Mom’s wedding clothes and filling her suitcase with carrots,squash and zucchini in
the belief that mom would not really need clothes on her honeymoon. I say
this to show how the furniture in the farmhouse connected with events in our
Anyone who has been robbed knows the feeling. Akin to rape.
We had no electronics … no bottles of fine whisky … no electric
kitchen gadgets. No problem for the thieves. After loading up at
our farm house they drove across the road and stripped the neighbours
house of the TV set, radio, LP player, etc.etc. Maybe they hit that
place first. The family were away that evening. The thieves must
have really done some fine planning.
Mom and Marjorie on the farm. Daisy on the left, what a good dog but not her best profile. Our pet ducks, Ping and Pong in the pond. Those ducks
thought we were their mom and dad so they came at our bidding. The farm was a key part of our lives. Robbery was a shock.
I was really glad that mom and dad had passed on when the robbery
happened. Mom would have been really hurt as it was her home. Dad
would have been furious and might have laid blame on innocent drifters.
He did not trust everyone, especially new people on the Fifth line.
I was still doing CBC radio shows at the time so I created a script for
the five minute time slot on Friday’s Radio Noon. I addressed the
i.e. “You stole things that are alive. Please treat them well. The big
dining room table, for instance. Take a close look at it. Along one
edge you will see some indentations. Small. That was the place
where our little son Andrew’s teeth hit the table when he threw a
temper tantrum. Why? Marjorie had wrapped up nickels and dimes
and quarters in the cake for Andrew’s fifth or sixth birthday. All his
friends got a coin or two. Andrew got nothing. He got the piece
of cake with no dime wrapped in wax paper. He was devastated
and bit the table for a reason I cannot fathom. So, Mr. thief, when
you sell this table put a few dollar extra on your price. Andrew’s
teeth marks are worth something extra.”
The broadcast had lots of these twists and turns. All addressed
to the thieves who were unlikely to be listening.
The thieves missed these picture frames…hand carved by granddad in winter times
honouring the worker on the Eywood Estate they left in 1908. This was the estate cook
who was Mom’s godparent. Thankfully the thieves considered these of no value.
One of granddad’s largest carvings framed this picture of Mom…Elsie Freeman. Hand coloured
picture taken I think by a pinhole camera granddad made himself.
“And, Mr Thief, let me ask you a question. Why did you not also steal
the pump organ that grandma and grandpa kept in the
front room kitchen. Thanks for leaving it behind. I suppose
it has no value or then again might be too easy to identify. No matter.
I appreciate you left it behind. Did you know that the organ was
the only piece fo furniture grandma and grandpa were able to
save when their log cabin caught fire in the pioneer village of Krugerdorf,
near Englehart. They lugged it out of the conflagration then They lugged the organ south to the Fifth line. I was
so glad you did not steal it. Grandma would play the organ on winter
nights while granddad played his prized violin. Their dog Laddie
always joined in and howled throughout. My favourite piece was
their rendition of The Devil’s Dream. That piece you probably know by
heart as the anthem most popular among thieves . Thanks for
being so thoughtful. Or was the organ just to hard to get onto my
As it turned out the thief was listening. Or some cruel practical joker
saw a chance to put the fear of the lord into me. shortly after
the broadcast I got a note from a person claiming to be the thief.
It was not nice. “Shut the fuck up or we’ll drop by and torch the place.”
Now that really sacred me. No sense of humour.
We had been talking to the OPP about the thefts. Not much they could do except drop
by now and then.
“What happens to our furniture?”
“ probably driven immediately down to Quebec
and sold as antiques. trailer and all. Removed licence plates of course.
In other words sold where things could
not be identified as stollen. Not much we can do.”
“One thing you might do. Maybe when you are having lunch
and are near here. Maybe you can park in our laneway. That
might just send a message.”
Like ripples on the pond, many other tings happened. One of
the weirdest was done by a student teacher of mine She believed
in ESP. She could communicate with the thief by some sort
of near witchcraft. “Would you like me to try?” “Noting to lose.”
She came to see me sometime later. “The thief lives nearby…a
mile or so North west of the farm. Knows your farm.” Now that
bit of information really startled me. I would rather have heard
the thief was living in Quebec or, even better, that he had a home
on the moon. I did not want to know he was close by.
Bottom line. I decided to shut up. No more radio stories.
The next incident was a kind of dark humour. Two months later on a May evening…after dark…our
neighbour Ron Saunders noticed a car parked at the front door to our farm house.
No lights. Activity. Ron alerted his son-in-law Tim and they drove over in two cars.
Was Ron armed with his shotgun. I think he said he was. They blocked the front
of our farm by focusing their headlights on the door. They were not fooling around.
Then our oldest son Kevin came out. Alarmed. He had finished his year at the University of
Toronto and was putting things in storage at the farm. Ron Saunders was first to
laugh. “By Jesus, we thought we had a thief, Kevin.”
This robbery had legs. There was
insurance involved. We had a policy with a local insurance broker
who asked me to list what was taken and suggest a value. Not
easy to do since I had forgotten some things and did not know exactly what was taken.
I walked through the rooms and looked at empty spots where the linoleum
was lighter…not worn. My estimate was $6,000. Best I could do
I asked that the insurance company to send a person over. And we waited.
No one came. So I phoned.
“No person will be coming. Your claim of
$6,000 will be accepted.”
“But what if I am lying…making things.up.”
Unlikely you would do that. Insurance scammers are spotted
but rarely at the $6,000 level.
“When do you send an investigator then?”
“$15,000 dollar claims and up. “ Now that was a big surprise. If I was
an insurance investigator and had a claim come in for $14,999 i would
be suspicious indeed.
WHAT COULD BE DONE WITH $6,000?
The insurance money must be put to good use. We could not buy
back what was lost. But we could do something memorable.
“Marjorie, why don’t we put that money into a trip with Andrew and
Kevin back to England…back to Herefordshire where grandma and
grandpa were born. Back to the Eywood Estate where grandpa
was the head gardener. I think grandma and grandpa wuld like that.
Best thing we could do with the money.
So we did. If I ever met the thief I would shake his hand. Without
him our kids would not really know their roots
P.S, The old pump organ is safely kept. Sadly no one knows
how to play it. It is however a symbol that reminds me often
of that slushy, foggy, March evening when the moon was covered
over and thieves were busy pushing my trailer up to the front door
of our farm house
NEXT EPISODE THE ROBBERY “NEVER BE HOSTAGE TO FORTUNE”