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K-9 Program & Crime Story

Hello everyone,

All of us here at the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office are happy to be part of this blog and we look forward to your comments and suggestions in regard to it. I hope to provide a service on these pages and also a little fun as I attempt to regale you with true stories from our files. Each month I’ll begin with important announcements/concerns from our office before moving on to a real life tale as passed on to me by one of our deputies or, as in this case, one of my own. The names of suspects and victims will be altered.


The Sheriff’s Office is implementing a new K-9 program to better serve the community. Our first canine is aptly named “Justice.” He is an eighteen month old highly motivated Belgian Malinois. He is currently undergoing training while we outfit a K-9 vehicle with all the special equipment needed to keep him safe and comfortable. This program is funded by donations from local businesses and private citizens. Please contact me at 209-533-6336 if you would like to make a donation.

And now, on to our story…

It promised to be another sizzling hot August day in the foothills of Tuolumne County and I began my morning as usual with a ten mile run; uphill both ways, a swim across Melones reservoir, and a ride on my mountain bike to Oakdale and back. Well… I woulda done all that but my dog got into my donut supply and I could tell it was going to be a bad day. So instead I ran to the kitchen for another cup of coffee before heading out to the Sheriff’s Office for patrol briefing.

James P. Simpson began his day a little differently. His friends called him Shorty, but he didn’t lose any sleep over it. He preferred to lose sleep for other reasons, like burglary. You see, Shorty had a plan. A money-making plan. And he talked his friends Randy and Jim into getting in on the ground floor of this once in a life time opportunity for financial independence. So, at around two in morning, when all was quiet, they forced their way into the basement of an old house and began carrying out antique furniture by the light of the moon. When they filled up Jim’s old van, they drove to a spot in the woods where they had been living for a couple of months and unloaded the van. Feeling mighty pleased with themselves, they drank a few beers and relaxed. Shorty, never one to lay idle too long, decided they should go back and get the rest of the antiques. Jim disagreed saying, “We should be content with what we have,” – and nodding his head in a gesture of finality – he added “And that’s in the Bible.” Finding that to be unsurpassable wisdom, Randy agreed they should be content and wait till tomorrow night to get the rest of the antiques. Shorty considered this for a while, but having three or four more brain cells than either of his cohorts he reasoned that the burglary was bound to be discovered in the light of day. And it stood to reason the victim(s) would move the rest of the antiques or make it harder to get at them. Once he made this clear, Jim and Randy submitted to Shorty’s superior intellect and they all drove back to scene.

It was getting light by the time they finished loading the rest of the antiques and unbeknownst to them, the owner of the old house was an early riser. She sat sipping tea by her living room window as dawn chased the shadows away. Though elderly, Margaret Rawlings’ eye sight was fairly keen, and she saw the three men as they walked off the property carrying the last of her Grandma’s dining room chairs. Shock immobilized her for a few seconds but soon anger replaced her fear and she grabbed the nearest weapon she could find, which turned out to be Fi Fi her toy poodle, and stepped out onto her porch as fast as she could go. She was just in time to see the men get into the van and drive away. She walked around to the side of her house and saw the basement door splintered and hanging wide open by a single hinge. Slowly she went down the three little steps her late husband had built for her and peered inside at the empty room. Her legs felt weak and shaky from the adrenaline and she sat on the steps and cried for what seemed like a long while, then made her way back into the house to call 911.

I arrived a short time later to investigate the burglary and found Margaret quietly sitting on her couch. After relating what she had seen she continued talking about her home being violated and concerns for her personal safety, not to mention the loss of two generations of family antiques. I’d seen this many times before and I suggested some things she could do to make her house less susceptible to burglaries. I didn’t mention the personal grief I felt for her and the anger I felt toward the person(s) responsible for causing so much trauma in Margaret’s life.

Due to dry dusty conditions I was unable to locate latent finger prints. I did however photograph three separate types of shoe prints in the dirt. One set matched another that was found on the basement door, indicating the method of entry.

I left the house and headed to Jamestown to lay a trap I hoped would pay off soon. When I arrived on Main street I started going into every antique store that was open and explained to the owners what to look for and how to contact me quickly if they came by any information. Then I went to the Jamestown CSU office and began writing my report. About twenty minutes later, a very flustered antique store owner ran into the CSU office and breathlessly explained that the suspects had just left her store after trying to sell her some antique chairs. She further explained that the van was still parked in front of her store and the suspects were carrying items into other stores trying to sell them. I had her go back, asking her to say nothing to the suspects should they come back into her store. Me and a few other deputies took up positions on the street where we could see the suspects when they returned to the van. They soon came walking back to the van empty handed, got in and began to drive away. I got into my patrol car and initiated a traffic stop within a block or so. As it turned out, the van was crammed full of suspects, burglary tools, and Margaret’s stolen antiques and everybody including the van went to jail.

It took some time but all the antiques were recovered and returned to Margaret. She later told me that her shattered basement door was mysteriously replaced and a new heavy duty deadbolt installed. The repair man was never identified and is apparently still at large.

-written by Jeff Wilson