We drove a kilometer or two east of San Pedro de Macoris to get to a place where the girl who looks exactly like the one I described as thief of my laptop lived. The guy who knew her got off the car and went to ring the bell of the house. When he came back he said the girl was not at home. Her parents opened and told him that she left for Santo Domingo on Friday evening and has not returned yet. This information alone was a hit on the head of the nail. Friday evening is exactly when I picked up a girl who was hitch-hiking to get to Santo Domingo. Pieces of puzzle started to fall into each other and offer bigger picture. According to the boy, this girl looked exactly the way I have described and according to her parents, she left for Santo Domingo exactly on the day and at that time when I picked up the thief. This sounded just like the suspect I was after. My investigation was yielding some results, which was giving me hope that I could eventually recover my stolen laptop. And since Dominican police care less about investigating, I had to do it myself.
A visit to suspect’s house didn’t bring me closer to my laptop, but it suggested that things are moving in the right direction. We have returned back to the traffic circle to drop off that guy and I asked Domingo if he’d be interested in going to grab a beer with me. I was so stressed out as result of my stolen laptop I really needed a cold one. Domingo said he had a wife at home waiting for him, but he could do one beer. I really grew to like Domingo. He was a sincere guy, nothing like the thief who stole my laptop. His actions, his words, his eyes – none were lying. He was a sincerely good guy who felt really sorry for me and was willing to try to help regardless of reward. I lost near all hope in the Dominican Republic after this theft, and here I found a friend with whom I felt comfortable and didn’t have to worry about being robbed again. I was glad he accepted my invitation to go for a beer.
As I was done talking to Domingo, we went across the street to talk to the guys who were at the spot where I picked up a hitch-hiker who stole my laptop. Since these boys are there every day, they were the ones most likely to match the description of the thief with an actual person. Domingo was always by my side interpreting from English to Spanish and vice versa making everything go smoothly. When he translated my offer that I would pay a $1,000 reward for information that would lead to recovery of my stolen laptop, I noticed that the eyes of those guys instantly popped and their ears were listening faster than Domingo was able to speak.
I made it absolutely clear that I wanted my laptop back and was able and willing to pay a reward to a person who could get it back for me. $1,000 reward may not seem like a big deal to most western people, but it is a huge chunk of money in the Dominican Republic. It was clear that if I am able and willing to pay such reward, the Dominicans will instantly be able and willing to go out of their way to deserve it. I once again went through thorough description of the thief making my best to give as much information as I could recall, even though as a driver I kept my eyes locked on the road, not on my passenger so my memory of what she looked like is very sparse. Afterall, I am a responsible driver who realizes that my own safety as well as safety of all other people aboard are in my hands and I don’t take that lightly. Unfortunately, because of that I did not gawk at the thief so there were only sparse details.
Several key points I have mentioned instantly rang the bell of one of the boys from the area who said he knew who the girl was and knew where she lived. He said he remembered her because she comes here hitch-hiking for Santo Domingo often and spoke to her on several occasions. As somewhat friend, he knew her family and address so we got in the car and drove to where he said she lived. The reward I offered for recovery of my stolen laptop was a massive motivator so these boys were on their tiptoes to find the way to recover my laptop. Off we went to the house of potential thief.
I got to San Pedro de Macoris the following day just before dusk. I made my way to the traffic circle where I previously picked up the hitch-hiker who stole my laptop and parked the car at the opposite side of the road so I have good visibility of the spot where she was standing to hitch a ride but so I am not visible from that spot. San Pedro is the city of more than 200,000 people and this traffic circle marks the beginning of the highway leading to the Dominican capital Santo Domingo so traffic was quite busy and many people passed around. I noticed a great number of young males on motorcycles swishing up and down the streets. Dominicans seem to come out of their houses this time of day, perhaps as it’s after work and there isn’t anything better to do so they meet up to kill time after dark.
I was sitting inside of my rental car while keeping my eyes locked on the spot where hitch-hikers stand to see if I can spot the one who stole my laptop. At the time there were two people standing there, but the thief was not one of them. As time went by, my presence was noticed by one of those young men who swish around on old motorcycles and curiosity got the best of him, so he pulled over by my door and stared inside. I rolled window down and asked him if he spoke any English. He didn’t but said he had a friend who did. Few minutes later he was back with a girl on her own motorcycle. She spoke a little bit of English so I started talking to her but her understanding was very basic so she wasn’t able to follow. Seeing that I had something important to say, she said she knew an English teacher and told me he was gonna be here in about 10 minutes. So I waited.
Sure enough, a little while later a group comes back on motorcycles with a new young man among them. He opens the door and I ask him whether he speaks English. He said in quite clean and unaffected English: “More or less!” This was my man. I asked him if he would like to take a sit on the passenger’s seat, claiming that I had something important to say and needed his help, but had a reward for a person who could help me. Young man took a seat and introduced himself as Domingo.
Domingo teaches English at a college in San Pedro. He has a very sincere voice and eyes and his English was better than just “more or less”. He was the best English speaking Dominican I have ever met and that meant there were no obstacles in how I needed to express myself which made everything easier. Domingo listened carefully and with interest and when I told him everything about what happened and how my laptop got stolen, including the plea that I would pay $1,000 to anyone who can get me my laptop back, he said we were going to go across the street right on the spot where I picked up the hitch-hiker who stole my laptop to talk to the guys who are there. Domingo said that these guys are there every day as this is their bread. They organize buses and gua-guas (cheap but not very comfortable form of transportation in the Dominican Republic) and help travelers with bags for which they get a few pesos to help them get by.
This was it. My intentions to trace my stolen laptop with my own devices was off to a good start. Finding someone who speaks good English in the Dominican Republic is a tough task. Doing it in a town like San Pedro de Macoris which is not a tourist trap because it doesn’t have anything interesting for foreigners is even more difficult yet thanks to Domingo the English Teacher who learned to speak English on his own out of his own interest this became a no issue. I had a person to help me communicate with others despite my non ability to speak Spanish. The first, very important step on my way to trace the whereabouts of my stolen laptops and/or the person who did it went down smoothly and made everything that went down from this point on so much easier. Domingo the English teacher was the best thing in whole of the Dominican Republic.
I have only been in the Dominican Republic for a day when my laptop was stolen. I had a whole week ahead of me and as I realized how much of a loss I was looking at, there was no way I could possibly enjoy my time in the country. Stolen laptop is not only about stolen monetary value. Stolen laptop also means stolen documents, stolen photos, stolen videos, stolen contacts, stolen financial institution informations, stolen traces of personal and professional life. Laptops bear lots of important data, including personally identifiable information and saved passwords that can be used for identity theft. I also had my digital SLR camera with expensive lenses with me. Had the thief stolen my camera, the financial loss would be greater, but my grief would be lesser as camera doesn’t bear such important data. Wide angle lens I had mounted on my Canon is worth twice as much as this laptop, even though it’s one of the best that was available at the time of purchase in mid 2009, yet it would be way lesser a loss if this lens along with the camera was stolen instead of a laptop. With laptop gone, all of my memories I had in pictures were gone, all of my emails I sent or received up until January 15, 2010 were gone, all of the work I was working on was gone – so much of it gone I can’t even begin to express my sadness and desperation.
Since it became clear that the Dominican police won’t do anything about the theft and since there was no way I could enjoy the rest of my stay after this horrible experience in the Dominican Republic, I have decided to initiate my own stolen laptop trace. It only made sense – if I could make it to Canada, I would be able to use other computers available to me there and take care of everything that needs to be taken care of since my laptop is gone, but I would be away from the Dominican Republic where nobody will do anything to recover my laptop. So I decided to try to use the time I had still in the country where my stolen laptop was located to launch my own investigation and do my own stolen laptop trace.
The first thing I did was going back to San Pedro de Macoris – a town where I picked the hitch-hiker up. Santo Domingo where I dropped her off after she stole my laptop was irrelevant as it was not a viable lead. She obviously asked to get dropped off as soon as she had the laptop safely in her bag to not risk spending any more time in car with me in case I notice that laptop is gone while she’s still there with laptop inside her bag. She clearly needed to get off my car right after she made the pull, hence the drop off location means nothing and is related to nothing about the thief. However the pick up location is definitely related to her in some close way.
She was hitch-hiking at the beginning of the highway to Santo Domingo in San Pedro de Macoris on Friday evening after dark. That could mean that she either lives in San Pedro and wanted to go to Santo Domingo for the weekend, or works in San Pedro and wanted to go home after work. Other options were possible, but I was certain that either of the two were the most likely ones. If she needed a lift from San Pedro to Santo Domingo once, she may need it again and have probably done it a few times in the past. Keeping an eye on the area close to the traffic circle where she flagged me down, especially at around the same time when I picked her up could get me some leads that may help trace my stolen laptop down.
Furthermore – I have decided to utilize the fact that almighty Dollar has a lot of power in the Dominican Republic and use it to my advantage. The plan was to find local thugs where at least one of them speaks English so I can safely deliver my message to them and offer them reward for information on a woman that matches my description. I would also promise them high payout for any information that would lead to recovery of my stolen laptop. To make it simple, I decided to give $1,000 reward to a person who gets me my laptop back. $1,000 is a lot of money in the Dominican Republic and such reward would definitely motivate people of all walks of life. Especially since what I’m asking for doesn’t require involvement in any criminal activity, such as delivery of drug packages. It only involves information or whatever other action may be needed to help recover stolen property. It’s an easy task for locals, it’s not a criminal activity and it involves high payout most of them will never collect in their whole lives. I thought this plan was gonna reap response and so it did.
This is an exact location of where I picked the laptop thief up on a navigable Google map:
As soon as I have realized that I just had my laptop stolen by a hitch-hiker, I drove back to the area where I dropped her off and desperately cruised around to see if I can spot her somewhere. It was clear that she is in no way related to this area. This wasn’t her destination, this was simply where we were at the time she made successful pull and moved my laptop from the rear seat into her bag. Once the laptop was in her bag, she obviously needed to get off the car immediately to make sure she’s gone before I can notice anything. I tried to see if I can spot her but it didn’t work. After such successful pull, she had likely got into first available cab and had herself driven away – anywhere but here. Trying to find her now was futile. Next stop – reporting this crime to the Dominican Republic police.
They have two types of police in the Dominican Republic – one is National Police (Policia Nacional) which deals with all internal affairs involving local Dominicans and then there is Politur which is the police especially dedicated to serving the tourists. Politur officers speak at least one foreign language to make it easier for foreigners to report crime, because Policia Nacional officers only speak Spanish so as a foreigner, unless you can speak it too, you won’t get very far. Politur was the response of the Dominican government to attract more tourists and give an impression that Dominican Republic has it taken care of so foreigners can feel safe. Unfortunately, existence of Politur changes nothing on the fact that so many Dominicans are criminals who don’t hesitate to steal from you even if you are helping them.
I was in Santo Domingo – capital city of the Dominican Republic. I drove up and down the main highway that goes across the city to see if I can either spot a Politur officer or their office but no luck. I tried to ask several people but everyone was completely useless. After more than an hour spent trying to report the crime to the Politur I eventually gave in and headed for the Policia Nacional head office which had a sign pointing towards it from the main highway.
It was already almost midnight. I parked my rental car just outside of the National Police headquarters where an armed officer guarded the gate. I pointed in to let him know that I need to see the officer inside to report the crime. There were three officers in main hall but none of them spoke English. One of them asked me if I had “passporte” which I could make out despite my lack of Spanish skills so I headed back to the car to get it, since I didn’t have it on me.
As I was coming back with my passport, I was taken by one of the officers to another office in a small building standing separately from main palace. Two men were inside and as they found out I couldn’t speak any Spanish, they called upon their colleague from the room next door. I thought that since I was taken to this building and since they called an officer from another room that it was because he could speak English, but I was wrong.
As a foreigner, reporting crime to the National Police in the Dominican Republic is as difficult as rumors have it. There is little help from their part and you are constantly subjected to jokes on your behalf. They say things they know you can’t understand and have a good laugh clearly showing that they are laughing at you and you can’t do nothing about it. But at least I was reporting it.
I wrote on a piece of paper information that was in what I believed a universally understandable language. I used sign language to make it clear that it’s a laptop I’m talking about and that it was stolen by a hitch-hiker. I wrote serial number on the sheet, wrote where I picked said hitch-hiker up and where I dropped her off. I have included the name and model of stolen laptop, showed them what color it was by pointing at the object that was plain white and as I was trying to describe what a woman who stole it looked like, the police report was ready and was being printed out.
Obviously, National Police of the Dominican Republic knew they were gonna do absolutely nothing about this crime. I was there, so they filed a report, but they showed me clearly that once filed, it will be put on a shelf and never looked at or dealt with. They never wanted to know what the thief looked like or where I picked her up or dropped her off (this information, although provided was not added on the report – too much to type, you know).
All in all, even though National Police accepted me as a foreigner to report a crime with them, they did not show any intention to do anything about it and made me feel that I can forget about ever getting my laptop back. They would simply not do anything about it. Dominican Republic is the country full of thieves from the bottom of the barrel. Thieves who have no troubles stealing from people who help them out. And the police will do nothing about it, not even an attempt to make it look like they would try. What a country…
The serial number that appears on the report is incorrect. I had the original receipt from Future Shop where I bought the laptop in August of 2009 with me as I carry those in case there is a warranty claim and that’s the number that accompanied the brand and model names on the receipt. As I found out upon my return back home, this is not the serial number, but at the time it was the only number I had, since actual unit was stolen so I wasn’t able to just flip it up and look up the serial number that’s on it. What kind of random numbers Future Shop adds on their receipts is a mystery to me.
I was hoping there would be some rapid response from the police as I had reported the crime shortly after it was committed but this was the Dominican Republic I was in. Not only was there no interest from the police to attempt to do anything about tracing down the thief, they acted like nothing will ever get done about it now or in the future. I was defeated. Completely drained of all hope that there is some good in the Dominican Republic, I was faced with 7 more torturous days to spend in that country as my flight back to Canada where I could report the crime to actual police was not schedule until Thursday next week. I had the worst week of my life ahead of me and I had to spend it in a country that put me into this torturous position. And this was supposed to be a vacation for me where I was meant to recharge and unwind.