In 1970, Robert Russell had his car stolen. Sadly, this was not an uncommon problem back in 1970 in the Philadelphia area, and Russell would never see his beloved 1967 Austin Healey again.
But Russell never quite gave up on the car, despite years of searching. Once the Internet came along, he’d occasionally Google for a 1967 Austin Healey, but all his searches were for naught. Friends told him the car was likely sold for parts or sitting in a museum somewhere, but Russell never gave up hope, even when the search seemed futile.
Until recently, that is. Suddenly, Russell’s car had turned up for sale on eBay. But finding it was only half the battle. How Russell found his car, and how two police departments in major cities had to work together to get it back, is a pretty fascinating story.
How He Found It
It starts with a clerical error. Not the most exciting of things, but fairly crucial, as the original stolen vehicle report Russell had filed contained an incorrect Vehicle Identification Number. The VIN is, of course, what police rely on to find stolen cars, and this explained why the Austin Healy had managed to elude law enforcement for so long.
When it turned up on eBay, it turned out to have changed hands several times. The dealer had no reason to think the car he was selling was somehow stolen.
How He Got the Car Back
The next step was actually getting the car back, which was tricky for reasons of distance. The car was stolen in Philadelphia, and the stolen vehicle report was filed there. But the car itself was in Los Angeles, while Russell had since moved to Texas.
The Philadelphia police first had to locate the stolen vehicle report: no mean feat since the VIN was incorrect. Fortunately, Russell still had the car’s Certificate of Title, which included the VIN, and he was able to verify the correct number.
That’s where Carlos Ortega of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department comes in. Once the vehicle was finally entered into the system correctly as a stolen vehicle, Ortega could take action and did so, impounding the car. It sounds more dramatic than it was, but the dealer didn’t like losing a car valued at $23,000.
Finally, Russell had to show up in person to claim the vehicle himself. He did so with his wife and they drove it back to Texas, car and driver reunited.
Persistence Is Key
So why did Russell persist all these years? Sure, he paid $3000 for the car but presumably after a point he would have to give that up as a sunk cost. After all, if he had full auto insurance coverage, he was probably reimbursed for the value of the vehicle, anyway.
It turns out to be the simplest reason of all: love. Russell and his wife had many, many fond memories of the Healy and it always hurt them that the car had just vanished. Now, fortunately, the Austin has been restored to its rightful owner and they can share those memories for forever.
And we sincerely hope, for both their sakes, that Russell fitted out his Austin with a GPS locator.