More on the Craigslist bike thief and the sting that caught him

A Bainbridge couple used a bike thief’s ‘own tricks’ to lure him into a police sting in Portland this week.

To read the story, click here.

There’s more to the story than I had room for in the paper, such as how the victims, Robert and Hadley Hill, figured out where the crook lived before they and team of undercover cops busted him outside Powell’s bookstore on Monday. Also not in the story is Hills’ advice for Craigslist shoppers. You can also find that below.

Web sleuths
After stealing the $2,700 Cervelo racing bike on Friday, 24-year-old Jason Adam McDonald of Tacoma posted the bike on Portland’s Craigslist for $3,000. Tipped off to the thief’s ad by a sharp-eyed Craigslist shopper, the Hills not only recognized their bike, they also recognized the tree it was leaning against.

“We saw the tree and the area around it and realized that we used to walk our dog in that park every day,” Hadley said. The Hills recently moved to Bainbridge from a house in Tacoma that is a block from the park pictured in the ad.

The family also just happened to be in Tacoma visiting friends when they got word of the new ad.

“I went straight to the tree and looked up the picture on my blackberry, and was lining (McDonald’s) pictures up with where I was standing,” Robert said. I said ‘Hadley, I’m looking at the exact same scars on the tree.”

The revelation was a bit creepy for Hadley, who said her family didn’t know McDonald before the theft.

“I just about hit the floor,” she said. “The bike, the thief and the victims were within a few blocks of each other.”

The Hills said Portland police jumped on the case after seeing that they had done so much detective work already. The Hills brought in e-mail correspondence with McDonald, print-outs of his ad, the bike receipt and serial number, and pointed to the photos that led to their suspicion that the thief lived in Tacoma. Had they called to simply report that their bike had been stolen, the case may have gone to the bottom of the theft report pile.

A little more Internet sleuthing on the part of the Hills turned up McDonald’s personal profile on a social networking site. While McDonald revealed an emotionally sensitive and intellectual side, he also posted photos of himself posing with guns and striking martial arts poses. The Hills found McDonald’s site after his arrest. Robert said he may have been a lot more hesitant to approach the 6’4 thief on his own if he knew what he knew after looking at McDonald’s online profile.

To see McDonald’s Craigslist ad while it’s still up, click here.

Robert was surprised to see some of the phrasing and words he had used when talking about the bike with McDonald when he visited Bainbridge for a test ride (…a very long test ride).

Here’s a portion of the ad:

I have a baby on the way so bike has to go and I almost resent my child because this is such a sweet bike,” McDonald’s ad states. “One of the most popular racing bikes currently on the market… At just under 20 lbs this bike is fast! Well designed so very comfortable. This rig retails for $4000 new not including all the extras I put on it. Ask anyone who know bikes and they will tell you that.

After the news spread of the police sting, someone posted this celebratory email on Craigslist’s Portland bike sale page:

So Loser McLoserson sees this bike for sell on CL in WA. Meets the dude and rides off into the sunset without paying for it. Couple days later… (he)… decides to post it on CL here in Portland because…well we’re bike friendly….I just love this guys sales pitch about his baby and how he’s almost going to hold a grudge…


Robert said he feels a bit embarrassed about how trusting he was of McDonald.

“There was nothing shady about him,” he said.

But, after talking to Portland police, Robert learned that Craigslist is a “cesspool of stolen goods.”

Robert doesn’t feel that he shouldn’t have used Craigslist – which he’s used in the past with success – but, in retrospect, he could have paid attention to clues that McDonald wasn’t your typical high-end bike buyer.

First, McDonald wouldn’t give out a phone number, saying that his cell phone was broken and that he’d only correspond via e-mail. Most legitimate buyers have a phone number that they’ll readily exchange with a seller.

Second, McDonald presented himself as a college student, which would likely put him in an income bracket that would not allow for bicycles that cost about as much as tuition.

Third, McDonald didn’t know much about bicycles.

“He asked a lot of dumb questions,” Robert said. “And he said something about how the bike has integrated shifters. I remember thinking, ‘well, yeah! Even low-end bikes have those.

If the potential buyer doesn’t know anything about what you’re selling, you should be suspicious.”

Even if a buyer seems legit, a seller should ask for collateral – preferably a driver’s license – if the potential buyer asks to test the item out of the seller’s view.

“Do not feel bad for asking for identification,” Hadley said, adding that asking for McDonald’s I.D. likely would have sent him packing or would have given vital information they could have turned over to police. “Getting your license is what a bike shop does when they let you take a test ride. Don’t feel bad for protecting yourself, and do the due diligence.”