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When Manor Park resident Patricia Earles returned to her Peabody Street NW home at about 4 p.m. on Dec. 12, she noticed something amiss with her trash and recyclables. The trash bag she’d placed in her green Department of Public Works Supercan was now sitting in the recycling bin. The Supercan itself was gone.

“I just dismissed it,” says the 64-year-old Earles, who has had her can blown over by heavy winds before. “I figured one of my neighbors put it behind the gate.”

But when she stepped inside her porch, Earles saw that her front door was wide open. The deadbolt was still in the locked position, but the door frame was split, and the screws and lock casings were scattered inside on the parquet floor. The door had scratches on it about waist-high. “You have that feeling of displacement, and you think, How could my door be open?” she says.

Earles, whose house had been burglarized twice before during her lifetime in the District, started to think she’d been victimized a third time. She’d left her cell phone upstairs while running her errands, so she decided to call the police and her ex-husband from across the street. Her ex had been with Earles during the first two burglaries, so she figured he might as well be there for the third.

Earles found a female student hanging around outside the charter school on her block and told her all she knew at this point. “I said, ‘Somebody broke into my house and took my Supercan,’” says Earles.

The girl recalled a strange scene she’d witnessed earlier in the day. She’d watched through a school window as a tall, thin man wheeled a garbage can down Peabody Street. He’d parked it next to a beat-up black sedan and opened the trunk. Then he’d dipped down into the can with both arms, heaved out a large television, and carefully laid it inside. “She didn’t pay any attention,” Earles says of the girl. “It just sounded odd.”

With a capacity of 96 gallons, Earle’s Supercan provided ample room for the thief’s comparably modest haul: a VCR, a DVD player, and two televisions, an old 13-inch and a new 27-inch model. “It was a Daewoo,” Earle says of the last. “It was no plasma, but I just bought it this year.”

It’s not uncommon for a District resident to find that someone has ripped off his Supercan, either to replace a missing one or to supplement a single can for an especially large trash load. Department of Public Works spokesperson Mary Myers says the agency had to replace 2,539 cans last year alone because of damage or theft.

Earles’ robbery appears to have been one in a recent series in Takoma, D.C., and Manor Park. “We’ve seen what we think is a rash of burglaries with the same MO,” says 4th District Commander Hilton Burton. “They kick in the front door, during the daytime, and generally steal electronics items.” In several of the cases, the thief has either used linens—pillowcases, sheets, and blankets—or the capacious Supercan to make off with his haul. Since Nov. 1, the police service area covering Takoma has had 20 daytime burglaries, according to Burton.

Once she entered her home, Earles called her property manager to report the busted door. Unfortunately for investigators, he beat the police evidence technician to the crime scene. The property manager gathered up the lock casings and screws—which, at just a couple of inches long, had made it easy to kick in the door—and started to make his repairs. He probably mussed whatever prints may have been on the door. “The evidence technician was upset,” remembers Earles.

The following day, Earles decided to make up the bed in her guest room. That’s when she saw that her quilt was gone. And still later, when she went to gather up her laundry, she saw that her laundry basket was gone. The clothes she’d had in the basket lay on the floor in a tidy pile. “The thing that struck me was that he was so neat,” says Earles, whose Iris Street NW home had been ransacked in one of the previous burglaries. “Nothing was out of place.”

To judge from the other robberies, the thief probably used the basket to transport his bounty to the Supercan, and he may have used the quilt to hide the electronics in the basket or, if he were especially careful, to protect the televisions from scratches.

Myers says she had never heard of Supercans themselves being used as implements of crime. “They sometimes migrate for reasons that we can’t yet determine,” she says. “We haven’t dispersed our field scientists to track their movements.”

Because they cost $62 a pop, notes Myers, the agency sends out an employee to scour the block after a Supercan is reported stolen. In Earles’ case, it never had to. The day after the robbery, Earles found an abandoned Supercan in front of the house two doors up the street. “I figured [the thief] had just taken off with it,” says Earles. When her neighbors declined to claim it, she took it for hers and wheeled it home. CP