ROGERS PARK — When Sandra Carter and Renee Labrana returned to their Rogers Park apartment just after midnight last Friday after a long day at work, they were welcomed with two unexpected surprises.
Not only had their home been burglarized, someone had left behind a cellphone — with a photo of a man holding up his middle finger on the lock screen.
Carter said that as she and Labrana walked in the door, they noticed a jar full of change they'd been saving for a vacation was gone.
Surveying the rest of their apartment, the two realized minutes later that they'd been burglarized. A 22-inch Apple desktop computer, a cellphone, the change jar and a box full of jewelry were all gone.
But they gained a new phone.
Carter said she and Labrana first thought the cellphone may have been another victim's stolen property sloppily left behind by the thief in the couple's guest bedroom.
But later, the building's maintenance man told them he'd seen two suspicious men near the front stoop earlier that afternoon — and one of them seemed to match the photo of the man on the phone.
Linze Rice explains how the phone might not be helpful to police:
Solving crimes with smartphones
Police say it's not as easy as one might think to trace a cellphone back to its owner, especially if security measures, like a lock on the phone, prevent others from accessing its information.
In general, if police aren't able to identify the phone's owner through its contents (assuming they are able to get past the lock screen), they may need to request additional data extraction through the court system — a process that can be lengthy.
The maintenance worker told Carter that when he'd seen the suspicious men, he knew they were not tenants and went to notify the building's landlord. But before they could confront the loiterers, the two men left.
Carter said she believes that when the maintenance man left to alert the landlord, the burglars made their move.
Carter said she thinks the woman who cleans her apartment may have unintentionally spooked the burglars, causing them to leave in a rush — hence the forgotten cellphone.
She said the couple noticed that several items, like an Xbox, were wrapped and ready to go, but left sitting on the apartment floor.
A lucky interruption
The cleaning woman told Carter and Labrana she came into the apartment to find drawers opened, their contents disrupted, and some overturned drawers on their bed. She assumed the mess was left by the couple searching for something in their home.
In reality, she unknowingly cleaned up a crime scene.
Carter suspects the burglar, or burglars, were able to gain access to her apartment through an unlocked and slightly propped-open window near her front door that had been left open all summer, she said.
Once the couple arrived home and grasped what had happened, they said they called the police, who came out and inspected the area and took statements.
The couple filed a police report, and about 4 a.m. and evidence technicians came by to dust for fingerprints, Carter said.
Officer Jose Estrada, a Chicago Police Department spokesman, confirmed the couple's report, saying a 49-year-old woman reported coming home to a burglarized apartment around 12:20 a.m. Sept. 25 in the 7700 block of East Lake Terrace.
Investigators are still working the case, and no arrests have been made, he said. Carter said they turned the phone over to police.
The couple said that despite the negative experience, they don't feel any less safe in their neighborhood.
"We still love Rogers Park, we still love our neighborhood, we're not going anywhere," Carter said. "It's one of those things ... you've got to take the good with the bad sometimes."
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