Last Wednesday, Russell Braunstein was expecting to see weird charges on his credit cards.
The Santa Monica resident carefully monitored his three accounts all morning. Despite the fact the man who walked off with his wallet had made off with the $160 in cash inside, the burglar used Braunstein’s credit cards for a short shopping spree through Santa Monica.
The charges started piling up:
A $146 phone from T-mobile.
A coffee from Peet’s.
Breakfast at McDonald’s.
Braunstein’s Mastercard was finally declined when the thief tried to get a ride out of town, so he figured the strange man must be stuck somewhere in Santa Monica.
So he was shocked for a number of reasons when another card suddenly showed $140 spent at a health spa nearly thirty miles away in Lomita.
“I guess he wanted his nails to look good for jail,” Braunstein said over the phone Wednesday afternoon from the Sheriff’s Station in Lomita where he was waiting to identify the man who stole his wallet.
It was the end of a strange day that began when Braunstein found a strange man in his bed.
“It was bizarre.”
In fact, it was the most bizarre thing that’s happened in the nine years Braunstein has lived at the corner of Hollister and Neilson Way. He awoke in the middle of the night when he heard a strange sound outside.
“I heard some noise, like a door close or something so I walked out on the west side of the house,” Braunstein said. “I hadn’t set the alarm on my truck so I did that. I walked around to the other side, the Neilson side.”
When Braunstein didn’t see anything suspicious, he turned around to go back to bed.
“I walk back to my door and it’s closed and it’s locked. So he must have been somewhere where I couldn’t see him. It’s pretty dark out there.”
Fortunately, Braunstein had grabbed his keys when he walked outside and easily got back in.
“And I walk in the door and he’s in my bed.”
Although the entire situation transpired in just a few minutes, the strange man was already under the covers when he looked up at Braunstein and simply said “hey, dude.”
“Well, I was a little surprised,” Braunstein said, “needless to say.”
After Braunstein informed the man his bed was already occupied for the night (by himself). The stranger asked if he had a couch he could use instead. The answer was no, so the man apparently grabbed Braunstein’s wallet and moved on to a neighbor’s downstairs couch. That homeowner snapped a photo when he discovered his uninvited couch-surfer the next morning.
From then on, the couch surfer allegedly treated himself to a new phone, some food and a spa service courtesy Braunstein’s credit cards.
It is not the first time police have responded to the corner of Hollister and Neilson in the past month. Just a few weeks earlier, a neighbor’s 9-year-old grandson chased down an alleged burglar who walked into her home and stole her purse across the street. Both cases ended in arrests, with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department arresting 28-year-old Edward Burrows in Lomita Wednesday, allegedly in possession of a wallet containing Braunstein’s credit cards and driver’s license.
Police say Burrows, who is homeless, admitted to breaking into a home and taking a wallet. He’s now in fail facing burglary charges.
As property crime rises across major cities in California, Santa Monica neighborhoods have not been immune. As of April this year, there had been 111 residential burglaries in Santa Monica, 51 commercial burglaries and 364 car break-ins, according to statistics provided by SMPD. Police believe decreased penalties for low-level offenders are contributing to the regional spike..
While unattended cars and bikes are still the major targets in the City, the spike is causing more neighbors to realize the importance of locking their doors or even installing security systems and cameras to catch burglars looking for crimes of opportunity.
Residents can schedule a free security check of their home by a police officer by contacting SMPD’s Community Relations Unit at (310) 458-8474. The department recommends motion-censored outdoor lights to scare off intruders and always locking your doors and windows, even when leaving for just a minute.