By Kellie Flanagan
BASS LAKE — Stepping up to the door of her family cabin at the lake, Tammy Johnson didn’t realize anything was wrong, at first. The door was slightly ajar, and she had a fleeting thought that perhaps the rental agency she uses hadn’t closed it tightly, and then, Tammy stepped inside and stopped cold.
“I walked in and saw that our washing machine was out of place, wrapped up and onto our dolly in the middle of the kitchen floor,” says the Hanford resident whose family of three generations has owned the cabin for ten years. “The door was ajar, but it was locked, and I thought about the realty company and said, ‘what are they up to?'”
With Tammy and her husband Mark in Hanford, and her sister in Madera and mom in Atwater, the family never fails to get together on 4th of July up at the lake, a tradition they’ve continued with the kids even after Tammy’s dad passed away five years ago.
“I look to the left, and underneath our massive television set, the VCR is disconnected,” continues Tammy, whose family rented cabins at Bass Lake even before they purchased property up here. “Cupboards were open, and the door to the laundry room was completely removed. It was pushed off to the side, leaning up against the wall. I see that the dryer is missing, and I yelled to my husband, ‘Mark! Come here, I think our house was robbed!'”
Mark ran up to the garage on the three-tiered property, and hollered back to Tammy that the family’s prized red Jeep — one that used to be her father’s — was gone. That’s not all.
The cabin had been rented out over the New Year’s holiday, by a group who left the place in good shape on Jan. 4. Tammy and Mark like to check the cabin every week or two just to make sure everything is in good order. Clearly, by Monday, Jan. 18, things were not in good order. Someone had been there and was coming back for more, hitting or planning to hit every room in the house and garage.
“The jeep was gone, they’d cut the batteries out of the two jet skis, taken the waterproof container with the fire extinguisher, and jet ski trailer ties,” says Tammy with an understandable mix of sadness and anger. “They also took all the extension cords in the garage, our nice little leaf blower, a battery charger, jump-start charger, plus all of the extra stuff that we had in there like wood laminate flooring panels and floor tiles.”
As Tammy and Mark continued to look around, they were surprised by the number of possessions — and even fixtures — that had been stolen.
“They took our water system under the sink and all the plumbing. There was almost nothing left under the sink! They even took the cleaning supplies.”
Adding the proverbial insult to injury, the as-yet-unknown thieves took clothes, including Tammy’s dad’s heavy jackets and sweatshirts. She says much of what was stolen has only material value, but when it comes to the Jeep and her dad’s warm clothes, it really hurts. The clothes were there for when the “kids” — now all in their twenties — came up; they would put on their grandpa’s jackets to stay warm and cozy, a tangible reminder of the patriarch they missed. The Jeep held a hundred memories of great family times, probably more. Still, that wasn’t all.
“They went through every cupboard and found hidden cabinets, even. They took everything. When I went upstairs to the kids’ room, I saw they took the quilts off the bed, spreading them out on the floor to fill with all our utensils, knives, silverware, plates, cleaning supplies, and more. They wrapped them up and tied the blankets.
This was a brazen crime.
“They broke into a room that we have secured just for family members, that contains all our keys to everything on the property. They keys were all stolen and they were labeled. They took our jackets, too.”
The bad guys unlocked a storage shed with the labeled key and when the Johnsons went to check the family golf cart, they realized it, like the jet skis, was just one step away from being hijacked, as well. Whomever was responsible had opened the gate, had time to consume half case of water, probably while scoping out how to get the golf cart out of the house.
Tammy says it looks like they were coming back for the washer, jet skis, golf cart, and “three big blankets tied up with all our stuff in it.”
What the perpetrators failed to realize was the Jeep had a hitch and they could have towed the jet skis right out of there. They managed to find the stored Jeep cover, though, so that’s gone now.
This break-in is similar to others in the neighborhood, Tammy says, in that whoever was inside took the time to place sheets over the windows so their crimes could go undetected. The Johnsons called the Sheriff’s Office, and a deputy took the report.
By Tuesday, the day after the burglary was discovered, Tammy was at AT&T getting a security system.
“The hardest part is we want the Jeep back,” she says of the 1990 cherry-red Wrangler, license plate number 4JXV088. A reward is offered for information that leads to return of Jeep.
Anyone with any knowledge of this crime is asked to call the Madera County Sheriff’s Office at 559-675-7770 and refer to case #16-242.
Madera County Sheriff’s substation in Oakhurst (located at 48267 Liberty Drive)
Kellie Flanagan is the Managing Editor of Sierra News Online