Camera thief


So I had my second bad experience with Couchsurfing this week, just before I left for the conference. I will just reproduce my letter to the offender (Viet) below, but first some background:

I had three couchsurfers the last night before I went to the conference: Viet from China, studying in San Francisco, and Vesna and Georgia from the UK, who had been travelling around the US and Jamaica for almost two months. Viet had stayed with me for four night already, and was a rather standard guest, although she often retreated into her phone and/or complained about couchsurfers she was supposed to meet in town, but who never showed up. Still, these are not serious flaws in a guest. However, something happened the last night she was staying with me, which was also the first night Vesna and Georgia were going to stay with me. We had agreed that they would stay in my flat while I was at the conference (supervised a bit by Deb, of course). This is a long summary of what happened, taken directly from a mail I sent to Viet yesterday:


There are some curious circumstances I would like to get cleared up before these things fade into history, because there are many things that only make sense if we make a very specific assumption.

Only four people stayed in my apartment the night between the 1st and 2nd, which was the night during which Georgia’s and Vesna’s camera went missing. Both you and Vesna agreed that she put the camera back in the charger before going to bed; I never saw this, and as I was talking to Georgia in the kitchen while Vesna was in the room, I doubt she would have seen this either. Judging from how Georgia behaved when we were looking for the camera, it didn’t seem that she would have noticed that the camera was in the charger before going to bed either.

Moreover, from where you were sitting most of the time while we chatting in the kitchen — i.e. on your mattress on the floor — you wouldn’t have been able to see whether she did or not either, because of the angles. This is the first of many oddities about this whole matter. Oddities that become perfectly clear if we make one very specific assumption.

Now, assuming that Vesna and you were correct, and the camera was put back in the charger after Vesna showed you some pictures, we know that either someone consciously removed the camera from the charger between then and the time when I got home and they discovered that it was gone, or somehow magic/gods intervened and moved it. As I don’t believe the latter is possible, that leaves us with only the former. Two people are more likely to know whether the camera was put back in the charger: the person who put it there and the person who took it away.

There are a total of eleven suspects, defined as people who were in the apartment, or around it, that evening, night, and morning: you, me, Vesna, Georgia, Deb from downstairs, Nathan (who helped carry up the futon), Nathan’s partner Danielle, Eliot, Genevieve (who lives across the hall), the person sleeping in the hammock, and an unidentified person in a black hat seen by the person sleeping in the hammock. Of these, we can remove several immediately:

Deb and Nathan were only in the apartment to help carry up the futon. This happened before Vesna showed you the pictures, and thus they cannot have done it.

Danielle and Eliot never went upstairs.

Genevieve didn’t come back home until 6 am, when she discovered her friend sleeping in the hammock. Neither of these were ever in the apartment, and didn’t know about the camera until after it was gone.

In addition, neither Deb nor Eliot heard anyone go up the stairs during the night, Eliot lives more or less directly below the stairs, and would have heard it, as it is pretty obvious anywhere in their apartment. Furthermore, NONE of these people, including the mysterious man in the black hat, were in my apartment between the times when it was discovered that the camera was gone and the time, after you and I left, when they found it.

I am pretty sure that the door was locked during the night, and you said you didn’t hear anyone enter. I usually sleep very lightly, so I would probably have woken up if someone did as well.

Lastly, it feels very weird that anyone from outside the flat would have gone inside, walked past my two MacBooks, my camera, my binocular, and so on, without waking anyone up, and steal a tiny camera that was situated within a metre from where Georgia was sleeping.

I therefore feel confident that I can declare Deb, Genevieve, Nathan, Danielle, Eliot, Genevieve’s friend, and the man in the black hat innocent, as well as any other outside agent, and the suspects are down to four: you, me, Vesna, and Georgia. This corresponds to all the people who were in the flat that morning.

Which brings us to the curious return of the camera.

Vesna and Georgia checked their bags several times, and I personally emptied them all out, patted down all their clothes, and made sure there was nothing in there in any side pocket, or inside any clothes, or anything. The camera wasn’t in any of their bags when Vesna checked them, nor when Georgia checked them, nor when I checked them. It must therefore have been placed there after we checked the bags.

The following people left the apartment at some point during that morning:
– I left for work for two hours, before the camera was known to be lost. Georgia woke up and saw me do this, and you were awake as well, as I saw you texting or doing something on your phone. Georgia claimed to be awake for just a minute then went back to sleep when I asked her about this.
– I was out two times looking in the garden and around the bins by myself, including knocking at Deb and Eliot’s door to ask if they’d seen it or heard anyone go upstairs during the night (they were both out, though).
– I was out in the garden with Vesna at one point to have her show me where they were smoking the night before.

During all these times, at least two people were left in the flat, and the camera was not found, nor was it found after these events. However, there was one more time when not all four of us were in apartment. When I had to leave, Georgia and Vesna went down to smoke, and I went out to talk to my colleague and then to bring down my bags. During this time, you were alone in the flat. After this time, the camera reappeared in a bag that had been searched at least four times and found to contain no camera.

So this is the scenario that makes no sense, except if we assume one critical thing:
Some time between 1 am when we went to bed (and the camera according to Vesna and you was in the charger) and 10 am when Vesna noticed that the camera was gone, the camera mysteriously disappeared from the charger. It was then gone for about three hours, after which it reappeared in a bag where it couldn’t possibly have been before, as this bag was searched several times by three different people, two of whom knew the bag very well and also were desperate to find their camera. It reappeared after a time when everyone who would have access to the camera except one had left the apartment. That same person who stayed in the apartment alone — the only time this happened during the entire morning — was also the only one who protested to have her bags searched, on the flimsy excuse that they were all neatly packed, and who had the audacity to play the race card when she was not singled out for special treatment, but rather was treated exactly the same as everyone else, i.e. the opposite for any valid basis for accusations of racism.

Like I said, this scenario makes sense only if we make one critical assumption. That assumption is this:
At some point, possibly after I left for work, you stole the camera and managed to hide it somewhere where we couldn’t find it even when Georgia searched your bag. My guess is inside your old shoes, which I noted that you didn’t throw away, despite asking me where you could throw them. When you saw how much that camera meant to Georgia and Vesna, you regretted this theft, and when the opportunity came, and the rest of us were out of the apartment, you hid it in their bag, hoping that when they found it, they wouldn’t suspect you.

I have no direct evidence for this assumption, except for very indicting circumstantial evidence. However, consider the following:
1. It would be absurd to even suggest that either Vesna or Georgia hid it themselves, in order to provoke some sort of reaction. It seems similarly absurd that either of them should lie about this, given that they are very close friends, the photos are both their memories, they will be travelling together for another few weeks, as well as making several trips together again in the future, and that there is no reason whatsoever, as far as I can see, why either of them would want to do this. Seeing how upset they both were, and seeing how they were prepared to pay 200 dollars for a 5 dollar memory card and just give up the camera, there is no way whatsoever that I will believe any scenario that includes this all being some sort of hoax.
2. I am trusting the two of them to take care of my entire flat for me while I am gone. That means not only that if I stole it and hid it, they would have lots of time to search for it and find it, thereby giving me a negative review (my first despite having had almost 600 couchsurfers so far), but also that I would have entrusted all my stuff into the hands of people who would have reason to wreak some sort of revenge on me without me being able to do anything about it. In addition, I have a much better camera already. It makes no sense whatsoever for me to steal their camera and attempt to hide it somewhere in the flat they will be living in for the next week. I could of course, as I told Georgia, have taken it to work and id it there, but inconveniently for that scenario, the camera turned up again in my flat after I’d left, and after Georgia had searched all my bags and not found it there, and we had searched more or less the entire apartment. However, that scenario also makes no sense, as Georgia woke up when I woke up in the morning and thus would have seen me take the camera, and I have no reason whatsoever to upset the people I am trusting to take care of everything I have in the US while I am gone. Moreover, I know that I didn’t steal the camera, so I feel no compunction about not counting myself a suspect, even though of course I had to let Georgia and Vesna search my stuff so that they could be sure about that.

That leaves one suspect, you, who has the following facts speaking against your presumed innocence:
– You knew that the phone was in the charger despite not being able to see that from where you were sitting in the kitchen; as I mentioned, the only two people who would know that for certain was the person who put it in the charger and the person who took it out. Neither I nor Georgia knew whether Vesna put it back in the charger, but you and Vesna were sure;
– You were awake when I left, which the other two girl were not, except very briefly, giving you the opportunity to take it;
– Your bag was near the camera, giving you the perfect pretext in case you did wake either of them up:
– You protested very loudly both when they asked you to show your bag and when I decided that everyone should look through someone else’s bag. Only under angry protest, and after having failed to appeal to me as some sort of authority did you agree to let them do so;
– You were the only person that morning who was ever alone in the apartment after we discovered that the camera was gone, and after this, the camera reappeared in a place where it could not have been before the time you were alone.

This is, as you’ve no doubt realized, building up to a pretty negative review for you on CS from me, and likely one from Vesna and Georgia as well. I will report precisely what I have outlined here to CS, and you are lucky that it seems that Vesna and George are not going to press charges. As you have quite few references and friends on CS, no doubt you will consider solving this “inconvenience” by closing down your profile and then open another one when you need it again, and start with a fresh slate. However, you should know that there are ways around that for us as well, as I know from personal experience when I had a similar thing happen to me many years ago (although that was more to do with threats of physical violence and unwanted sexual approaches). That time, the offender did exactly what I outlined above, but a total of four profiles were shut down, so that doesn’t mean that you’re “safe” on Couchsurfer.

However, before I do that I would very much like if you’d indulge me with your version of events. I’d be extremely curious to see how you’d try to get out of this pretty damning scenario. Above all, I’d be interested in knowing how someone can be so downright idiotic to think they would get away with stealing one of the things that someone else treasures more than anything of the things they are bringing with them, and that they would definitely notice if it was gone. A t-shirt I could understand, or one of my books or something. But to go after virtually the only thing Vesna and Georgia would save from a burning house is beyond belief.

Feel free to correct me on anything I am wrong about above, however my mind is pretty much made up when it comes to what happened that night, and I will make sure to let others know as soon as I can.


She also received a negative review on CS (of course) from me, and Vesna and Georgia are writing one as well, they said. Viet has been in almost constant contact with me since I sent that, over text messaging, and I’ve been subjected to a constant stream of abuse, but not a constant stream of explanations for the various mysteries surrounding this event, not any refutation of what I’m saying. The “explanations” she sends me are all variations of “you don’t always find everything the first time you search somewhere”, “It is ridiculous to suggest that i would steal a phone because that is just not how I am!”, and “You are all idiots!” so that’s not very helpful…

The English girls don’t have a phone that works, so I can communicate only through CS with them, and they’re rarely online.

Still, much excitement, and precisely what i don’t need since this (and some other things) is keeping me up at night and detracting from my concentration at the conference.

If anyone, from the scenario outlined above, can suggest another explanation for how a camera walked away from its charger, was gone for three hours, then reappeared in a bag that had been emptied several times by three different people, I am all ears!


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