How The Internet Found My Stolen BeetleS

Here's the most incredible thing about today: my prized Beetle has had its eyes gouged out, its hood and decklid battered, it bumpers mangled, roof rack stolen, radio gone, and the entire engine brutally extracted, and all I can think about is how amazingly wonderful people are.

Not all people, mind you. There's at least a few I'm not at all pleased with right now, but they're woefully outnumbered by genuinely good people. Specifically, all of you who helped get the word out, all of you who Tweeted, Facebooked, Reddited, Kinja'd, semaphored, and everything else to get the word out about my stolen mechanical companion. Even more specifically I'd like to mention two Jalopnik readers, Jake and SFmikee.

How The Internet Found My Stolen BeetleS

Before we get into the serious CSI shit that went down here a few hours back, let me recap: my VW Beetle that I've owned over 20 years was stolen, and I've been very publicly crying about it and unashamedly begging for help. After several days of no information at all, today commenter Jake posted four pictures of my car in a run-down-looking neighborhood in Kinja. Yay! But no address. Boo.

It was painful. I could see it right there, and I could tell it was probably within 15 miles of me, but I had no idea exactly where it was — and Jake was no longer answering. Jake even mentioned it in a Reddit thread about my stolen car, but no more news there, either. There's a good reason why, I found out, but at the time it was downright torture. People suspected he was involved or just cruel (he was neither, I'll explain) but the end result was I had no idea how to get to the car.

So, there's pictures of the car in a distressed but mostly intact (if Oedipal/Samson-looking) state, sitting in front of a mint-green colored house with a gaudy, white, wrought-iron fence. There's a blue FJ cruiser in the background, a hill, and what could be a retail space of some sort. That's it. That's all the information available. No GPS/location data in the photo, no other information of any kind. I'm screwed, right? There's no way to figure out where it is. That's pretty much what the cop I called told me.

How The Internet Found My Stolen BeetleS

But that cop forgot to tell SFmikee. SFmikee, who I'm assuming is some cybernetically-enhanced supersleuth named Mike in San Francisco, used Google maps to find the exact address based only on the visual clues in the photo. A hill, a general sense of the kind of neighborhood, that's it. Here's what he said in Kinja:

I was pretty damn excited when I spotted it. Literally started jumping in my seat. First scanned the East LA gmap for a hill that looked most like a match for the one in the photo. Then zoomed in to scan the streets for houses that looked about on the same socio-economic rung. The fact that it's a green house helped. It just sort of jumped out. Dropped the street view pin and first thing I saw was the FJ. I was choking on my tea while I scrambled to get the link posted.

At this point I think even the Pope's prudish dowager aunt is saying "are you fucking kidding me with this? This is some insane shit." And she's absolutely right. This shit is absolutely, unquestioningly certifiably insane. And, keep in mind, SFmikee, King of Google Maps, First Of His Name, pulled this off in about 30 minutes.

Thirty minutes. In a half hour I had an address. I was sitting at the computer since I first saw the picture, shaking with adrenaline-saturation. My car. My Beetle. I was losing it. I called the cops, demanding, as a taxpayer, to get a patrol car out there, post-haste. Maybe a helicopter. And the mayor. But the police told me that if they got there first the car would be impounded and it'd be an expensive hassle, etc., and I should just call them when I'm there.

Fine by me. I was itching to get to it as it was. I grabbed the address from the Kinja thread, promised my wife I wouldn't do anything stupid and get myself killed, but I was so hopped up I'm thankful that I didn't have to test that promise. I got in the car and headed over.

Matt called me just as I spotted the car, and he wisely told me to not do anything stupid as well — it's good to have smarter people looking out for me — but I admit I approached the car before the cops came. There was no one around, and I had to know what happened to it.

It's taken a beating, but it's absolutely salvageable. It could have been so very much worse. It looks like it's been hit in both the front and back at relatively low speeds — I suspect other cars were used to bump it around after the engine was yanked. So, both bumpers are kinked and bent, there's a small dent in the front hood, and the engine lid is pretty beaten up. Strangely, the cheap-ass, off-the-shelf headlights were taken, which hardly seems worth the effort. Still nothing that can't easily be fixed. The biggest issue is that the engine is completely gone, but thankfully the transmission and everything else seems to be intact.

Inside, the car's pretty trashed, ignition switch shot, radio gone, battery purloined, tools taken, some seat and other damage, but all repairable. And, more importantly, that old faded Polaroid of my dad is still there. As is the 8-ball shift knob my wife gave me from the old Baja she used to own.

How The Internet Found My Stolen BeetleS

The fairly rare factory roof rack is gone, and the whole car is pretty filthy, but, really, I got very lucky. I'll get a new engine in there — maybe I'll be able to upgrade a bit? — but I'm confident I'll have her back on the road before too long. As long as, you know, my insurance company decides to be reasonable.

And I couldn't be saying that if it wasn't for the Jalopnik community. Everyone should take a moment here and just bask a bit, because, and I mean this absolutely, the collective efforts of everyone got me my car back. It started with everyone understanding and appreciating the loss itself, then everyone was so supportive emotionally, and when it came time for action, there was some agressive stepping up. And it worked.

Oh, and before I forget, I actually saw Jake, the picture-taker, as I was following the tow truck home. He leaned out of the passenger window of a Miata and yelled to me who he was. He then emailed me this:

Hey Jason, my name is Jake Dxxxx. I am glad you were able to find the car from the pictures. I got called into work just after I posted the pictures and I don't have a smartphone to check if you responded. I feel pretty dumb for not posting the address anywhere before I left. It was way cool seeing you at the intersection. My girlfriend and I were just getting Taco Bell when I saw your beetle being towed away. I am really happy you were able to find it, and I'm sorry that I wasn't able to get you the address. I can only imagine how tauntingly spiteful it seemed but that wasn't my intention at all, I just wanted to help. It looked like the perps stripped your car pretty bad. I sorry for you man, Beetles are very cool. I hope you are ably to get everything restored.

So nobody blame Jake for forgetting the address. His pictures were the key that make this happen, and without them SFMikee wouldn't have been able to show what a badass he (and the others who figured it out) is.

As far as justice goes, there's one very good clue to go on, and it was given by my Beetle itself. See, when they quickly pulled the engine, they just cut the wiring harness and the fuel line. And that fuel line dropped down and bled fuel for a while, creating a trail from where the car was pushed from to its final resting place in front of the suspicious-looking but innocent mint-green house. That fuel trail led down an alley and continued for two blocks before disappearing.

How The Internet Found My Stolen BeetleS

The police followed the trail as far as they could, and couldn't pin down a source just yet, but it's somewhere in that very small area. There's a few auto and body shops tucked back there, and I'll be talking to a detective tomorrow to suggest a field trip. I hope the bastards can be found, not just for me, but for any number of LA classic car owners less blessed with incredible online communities than myself.

I was at the scene for about 6 hours, as the tow truck didn't arrive until after 10 pm. It's about 2 am now, and I really should get to bed. But let me just say this one more time: thank you.

Thank you Jake, SFMikee (please let me know if there's any way I can thank you), all the other people who helped get the word out, all the other blogs and magazines, the collective Jaloposphere commenting via Kinja, the kind people at Reddit, the rest of the Jalopnik staff, Leonard, the guy in the neighborhood there who gave me an apple and granola bar, all of you. There's so many of you wonderful people, and so few of the dipshits.

We win.