My writer friend Bruce Bentzman recently published a three-part essay about being burgled in the online magazine Snakeskin (part 1, part 2, part 3). I thought Dead Guy readers might be interested in some of the real-life procedural details of the case.
Bentzman left his apartment unlocked for about fifteen minutes while he did some outside work. When he returned, he discovered his laptop and a few other things had been stolen. Bentzman and his “more significant other,” Ms. Keogh, called the police. Meanwhile, they soon learned, the burglar had already begun using the credit card to purchase gift cards from local shops.
Bentzman was especially upset about the less-monetarily-valuable thefts: his mail, his journal, and three beloved fountain pens including a Sailor Bamboo Susutake similar to the one pictured at right. (I occasionally receive handwritten letters from Bentzman; it’s clear from looking at them that he cares deeply about ink and penmanship.) He followed the credit card trail of the burglar, hoping to recover whatever he could from nearby trash bins. He says:
In the trash at the Rite Aid in Yardley, I found three envelopes that were not mine. It appeared that someone had paid bills and thinking they were mailing them, inadvertently tossed them into the blue recycle bin mistaking it for the blue mailbox that was only a few feet further. I picked them out, noted the return address, mailed them correctly, and called Mr. N. of Yardley to reveal the error. Mr. N., who sounded like a dear man, 92-years-old, was thoroughly astonished and grateful. So was I. I felt I had been afforded the chance to restore some goodness into the world, countering the damage caused by the shithead burglar or burglars, only I never found my mail.
Bentzman soon learned that two women, likely the burglars, were under arrest for other crimes in the neighborhood. He filled out a form requesting to see the crime report for his burglary:
A week later, I received a letter from the Township Manager informing me that my request has been denied pursuant to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law Section 708 (b)(16). 708 (b) are the exceptions. (16) has many parts. Which parts are pertinent to me? One that stood out was, “(iii) A record that includes the identity of a confidential source or the identity of a suspect who has not been charged with an offense to whom confidentiality has been promised.” But maybe more pertinent was, “(v) Victim information, including any information that would jeopardize the safety of the victim.”
Then there was (vi), which is subdivided into five parts. “(A) Reveal the institution, progress or result of a criminal investigation, except the filing of criminal charges. (B) Deprive a person of the right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication. (C) Impair the ability to locate a defendant or codefendant. (D) Hinder an agency’s ability to secure an arrest, prosecution or conviction. (E) Endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.” That last one, would my inquiries place me in danger?
Bentzman found out as much as he could about the accused women. The more he learned, the less likely it seemed he would ever recover his pens or his journal (and indeed, as of this writing, he hasn’t gotten them back). He learned that the two women were heroin addicts and repeat offenders, and that he would be in attendance at the hearing for Anne Bambino, the woman who had used Ms. Keogh’s credit card. What was it like to see her up close?
The courthouse was unimpressive, a one-story white stucco building. It looked insignificant, as if the law did not merit any special honor, held no particular virtue. When Ms. Keogh entered the stark lobby of the building, I pointed to the window in the wall where she needed to sign in. We then sat together and waited, wondering if we would recognize Ms. Bambino when she arrived.
I expected to recognize her. After all, I had seen her photograph. I had seen the pictures taken by surveillance cameras. I had seen her mug shots. There are several as she has been arrested multiple times. I had seen her Facebook portrait. She would not have recognized me or Ms. Keogh. Whether it was she or her associate who rifled our apartment, we had no photographs of ourselves on the walls. And there she was. She was easy to recognize. She arrived under guard and in chains.
She wore a maroon prison suit under a winter jacket. A chain dragged between her ankles. Her wrists were also chained and it extended to a steel loop on a thick leather belt. Even in this sad state, she was more attractive than I expected. It was disconcerting to see this small, pleasant appearing woman in such determined restraints.
Ms. Keogh and I took a seat in the last row of the small courtroom. I looked at Magisterial District Court Judge John J. Kelly, Jr. I knew him! Was I to call the kid I wrestled back in our Neshaminy High School gym class “Your Honor”?
It hardly mattered that we came to the hearing. There was no confrontation. We were not called to speak. Ms Bambino was offered to sign a waiver. It wasn’t that she was pleading guilty, but she was not contesting the charges and was having the case combined with other charges that would involve other courtrooms.
They placed the waiver on the judge’s bench for her to sign. It was too high for the small Ms. Bambino, only 5’3” and her arms restricted by chains. She rose on her tip toes to sign. One of the officers of the court said she was looking well. It caused a charming smile to arise across her face and I heard her pleasant voice. As I made it out, she was admitting that despite prison life she felt she was doing well. Then it was over and they led her away.
We left the courtroom and Detective Nicastro discussed the matter with us. He told us about Ms Bambino. She had been married, but it wasn’t known if she was separated or divorced. I asked if she had any children, but he didn’t know. I asked about my stolen pens. Detective Nicastro said that when the burglars realized they were just some pens in those little sacks, they probably threw them out.
It was hard to be indifferent to whatever happened to Ms. Bambino. I was angry with her, but with all the years she will be incarcerated, it would be terrible enough; I could not bring myself to wish her more. What is the value of my pens compared to several years of her life wasted in prison? That day at the hearing, seeing this meek blonde incongruously shackled and fettered, I felt sorry for Ms. Bambino. I am relieved the decision isn't mine to make.