I’m sure my pal and partner will correct me if any of the following doesn’t comport with his ancient memory….
The year was 1968, the weather was perfect, and my partner and I were in our first year, first weeks truth be told, of working criminal cases out the Seattle Office of the FBI. Most of our work involved fugitives, but we often were assigned minor roles in a case or two that would wind up in the Seattle newspaper.
We were following up on a few fugitive leads north of Seattle on that perfect day when a call on the radio reported a kidnapping in Clearview. The radio dispatcher asked who might be close to Clearview to get there quickly and begin the investigation. We looked at the map and called in. We figured we could get there in less than fifteen minutes.
My partner will no doubt dispute this, but I was driving and was by far the better driver. He wasn’t that good at navigating either, but I headed north and figured he’d manage to get us to Clearview (just kidding, partner!). He put the flashing red light on the roof of the car and I hit the siren. I’d been wanting to do that since Day One…..
Our radio dispatcher provided more information. The mother of the missing children had parked in front of the general store, left the children in the car, and did some very quick shopping, only to discover the car and the children were gone when she left the store. She was back in the store and she and the store owner were on the phone calling for help.
We were first on the scene as I turned to park on the main street in front of the store. The general store was one of about five buildings in the downtown area, the largest of them and the one with the signs that offered everything from milk to hiking boots for sale.
This is critical information: there was no parallel parking or parking in a lot. All I had to do to park our high-powered pursuit vehicle was angle toward the store a bit, and with the car completely clear of main street engage the parking brake because the front of the car was a foot or so higher than the back. In other words, we were parked on an angle, on a small hill between two other cars, and without the parking brake our car might have rolled away into the building on the other side of the street.
Except the building on the other side of the street was, as we say in golf, not in play. Had any of the cars parked in front of the store rolled away, they would have missed the building across the street on the left, where there was nothing but open land. Open land that fell away in a downward direction.
We didn’t notice all that at first, but here’s the rest of the story.
As the senior agent (by about four weeks and by marksmanship ability), I had my partner do what he did best; that is, talk to and calm down the mother and the owner while I began to canvass the neighborhood, sparely populated as it was, and wait for other agents to arrive.
As soon as I stepped outside and took a good look at the surroundings, I noticed the aforementioned vacant land streching downward and back to the edge of downtown Clearview, about three hundred yards south.
I started walking across the street to ask whether anyone in the building there had seen anything when I noticed the two-foot high weeds in the vacant area, particulalry the ones that were matted down in a manner that suggested tire tracks. Looked like a vehicle had driven through them.
Highly trained investigator that I was, I decided to walk over and see just how far those tire tracks went. As I came to the edge of the road it was easier to see how much of a hill was there. Another few steps and I could follow those tire tracks a few hundred yards down the hill. I could also see a car at the bottom of the hill and two children waving at me through the front window of a car.
Clearly in Clearview, the mother’s car had rolled away, crossed the road and down the hill.
I waved back, held up my index finger in the “just a minute” gesture, ran back across the road to get help just as another pair of agents was parking. I told them to go make sure the children were all right while I grabbed my partner and informed the mother that her car and two children were apparently all right and were in the car across the road at the bottom of the hill. A very happy young mother was out the door in a flash.
I spent the next few minutes on the radio advising people that we had already cracked the case and not to bother continuing on to Clearview.
In my mind, the case became known as “The Clearview Parking Brake Caper.”
Sometimes there were (and still are) happy endings……