here was a time when jewel thieves hounded by the law hid their booty in an unused warehouse,in the woods under a rock, or at the back of their sock drawer. No more. Now when cops close in the popular hidey hole is their gullet.
News has reported three recent instances of alleged crooks swallowing evidence. One involves a British Columbia hang-glider pilot whose tandem rider fell to her death mere minutes into their flight. For whatever reason – he claimed he panicked – the pilot swallowed the memory card from the hang glider’s video camera. He was held in custody in police cells until the memory card surfaced a week later. He was charged with obstruction of justice.
In a second instance a man suspected of trafficking drugs was pulled aside at the Vancouver airport, taken to hospital, and his innards x-rayed for signs of 40 condoms filled with liquid cocaine.
In yet a third instance, a 52-year-old, well known jewel thief, banned from every jewellery store in the country, was arrested in Windsor, Ontario after he tried replacing a 1.7 carat diamond worth $20,000 with a cubic zirconia. The jewellery store clerk who was showing him the diamond recognized him from a recent alert sent out by Jewellers Vigilance Canada. He was wanted in several jurisdictions.
She stalled him by pretending the manager would be available in a moment to offer him a better price. In fact she gave staff time to lock him into the store and call police.
When police arrived they took him to hospital for x-rays and an ultrasound. Diamonds do not show up on x-rays. Afterward he was held in a dry cell on a charge of theft and breach of court conditions until 12 days later when his digestive system relinquished the jewel. Then a charge of possession of stolen property was added.
Retrieving evidence somebody swallowed isn’t that unusual, says Windsor police quoted in the Calgary Herald. That’s why they have “dry cells” with no sink or toilet and nowhere to “get rid” of anything. “Dry cells are built for these specific reasons where police need to isolate somebody and isolate the opportunity for them to rid themselves of potential evidence,” says deputy chief Jerome Brannagan.
“In our business,” says Brannagan, “it’s not unusual to see persons that sense they’re cornered and they’re going to be arrested, for them to make a foolish decision to ingest some type of evidence.”
A thief, while being held in a dry cell, is kept under close watch by officers and surveillance cameras. Hopefully, the cameras are in working condition, loaded with film, turned on, and aimed at a level to catch any action by the inmate rather than a blank wall high up.
Isolating the thief in a dry cell not only protects evidence, it also protects the thief from other inmates who might be tempted to intervene. Every time the inmate has to “go”, police hand him a container to use. The container’s contents are then examined.
That unenviable task is not a job investigators can relegate to a rookie cop either. On the contrary, Brannagan says “whoever is involved in that has to be somebody who is qualified to give evidence in court. They’re going to have to articulate what happened, how it happened, how they recovered the evidence. The chain of evidence has to be maintained.”
The Windsor thief, tired of sitting on the evidence, cooperated by drinking liquids that assist elimination, taking laxatives and eating meals with plenty of protein to hasten the process (and cushion the journey?). Would a faceted diamond snag in narrow turns and scrape straight-a-ways?
How retrieved evidence is tidied for presentation to the court is best left to the imagination.