My friend Dave was pretty surprised when he walked outside to jump in his car yesterday morning. There it was, sitting on four small bricks, lug nuts clustered in little piles around each hub, missing its wheels. It's not like the car was in a crappy neighborhood; it was a couple of blocks away from the Denver Country Club.
What was chilling about the whole affair was the surgical precision and speed with which the theft appeared to have been carried out. And Dave hasn't been the only one targeted in that posh neighborhood over the last couple of weeks.
His car is nice, but it isn't especially fancy; a black 2011 Subaru WRX STI with stock everything, including the rims. But when Dave contacted the police about the theft, the officer taking the report said that his was the fourth precision wheel theft over the past two weeks. After he'd gotten over his shock and called a tow truck to take the car away for re-wheeling, he walked around the corner, where another WRX owner was picking up lug nuts off of the ground. The bricks were there, too, but the wheels hadn't been taken. The thieves had apparently aborted mission and left in a hurry.
Let me explain what I mean when I say precision. The thieves didn't waste time with any superfluous activity. They broke the passenger window, retrieved the wheel lock key from the glove box (because let's be honest, almost everyone keeps it in there), put two bricks under the rocker panels on each side, and removed the wheels. The stereo was still in Dave's car, nothing was missing from the trunk or glove box, even the cache of beer that had been chilling in the cool night air didn't attract the burglars. They were focused.
"They knew exactly what they wanted and how to do it," Dave told me, adding that the bricks crushed the little metal ridge running under the rocker panels. Although the car was set down on its back end, there didn't seem to be any other damage.
The Denver Police Department's crime statistics weren't really much help in trying to track down a trend in recent theft from vehicles, and, of course, verbal queries were directed to an ineffectual public information office, a sluggish records request process, and back to online crime statistics, which show only January - March of this year and last. By those stale numbers, theft from vehicle incidences were actually lower — by 23 and 13 percent, respectively — than the same time last year in both in the district where the crime went down and citywide.
During the day, there's nothing about the neighborhood to suggest that your car could end up wheelless at night. It teems with cyclists and foot traffic, and the houses in the area are expensive-looking and well kept. But a quiet street like that, one that winds down at night while gentry sleep, could be the perfect place to pull of a rim grab. It's a lot like last year's rash of catalytic converter thefts, although the price of platinum has been replaced by the cost of STI wheels, which area Subaru dealerships said cost about $500 each to replace.
Dave's car is at some body shop, getting its window replaced, its aluminum suspension components checked, and its wheels replaced. But somewhere out there, a team of wheel jackers lurks, waiting for their next victim. (Hat tip to Dave!)