Anatomy of a Crime Scene 

Plants go poof, boys burn a school, and metal thieves give "grave robbing" a whole new meaning.

As Maceo Smith lay dead of multiple gunshot wounds beyond yellow caution tape on May 13, his body blocked by parked cars and police, onlookers laughed, cried, and sipped tapioca tea. Pacing back and forth past Top Dog, groups eyed each other tensely. Newly minted UC Berkeley alumni swished by in black caps and gowns, camera-wielding parents in tow. Student-couples perched on apartment house steps, phoning their pals ­on cell phones: "Dude! Guess what!" This is the surreal truth: that any moment in time is the worst moment in history for some, for others the most monumental moment of their lives.

The crime-scene crowd swelled. Although a UCPD bulletin sent forty minutes after the 3:44 p.m. murder urged media to "please stay out of the area," within an hour an NBC truck was among many of those disobeying the bulletin. Apprehension was conscientiously staying away when a friend called and insisted that our presence wouldn't harm the investigation. Minutes later, media filmed media as our camera caught a blond TV reporter approaching one of the dead man's associates, who responded with perfectly understandable outrage to her request for an interview:

"Shut up!" he screamed, lunging at her as another associate rushed to restrain him. "Shut the fuck up! I mean it ... shut the fuck up. Enough is enough. I asked you once to shut your mouth."

Blocked off to traffic, thronged with wearers of jaunty summer gear under a bubblegum-blue sky, the street had a carnival mien, except for those crouched on the curb, embracing each other and sobbing.

Paste Tense

The murdered man, Maceo Smith, was arrested in 2005 with several other men for a Richmond double murder that was retaliation for an earlier Oakland murder, according to Berkeley Police Sergeant Mary Kusmiss. The Richmond victims were "bombarded with gunfire," according to a July 22, 2005 San Francisco Chronicle story: "Police say three of the suspects fired shots, one drove the car, and the two others conspired to kill and possibly supplied the weapons. Four of the men are on parole and would also be charged with parole violations."

Bumper Cars

As part of a new gang-initiation rite, novice ne'er-do-wells "bump your car" with theirs, according to a warning posted on Oakland neighborhood-watch sites this month. "You will then get out to see what is going on, then they will shoot you. ... They are targeting everyone, but mainly females ... forward this e-mail ASAP to all of your friends and family." The message was allegedly "forwarded by a friend" — who allegedly heard it from an ex-coworker "in Tracy, CA." But any message that includes the phrase "THIS IS FOR REAL!!!!!!" smells a bit fishy, no? Sure enough, the rumor-busting site Snopes.com says it's fake. It "began spreading like wildfire" nationwide "via text messaging and e-mail on 26 March 2008." Responding to fears sparked by the rumor, police chiefs in several states have issued press releases denouncing it.

Arsons, Their Sons

We've all been there: watching those last few days tick away until summer vacation starts. Apparently unable to wait one minute longer, two Oakland juveniles — "related by brotherhood," as the police report poetically put it — ignited a portable building at Sobrante Park Elementary School on May 8. The structure was "fully engulfed." Determining arson, investigators pursued and booked the puny pyros.

If You Plant It, They Will Steal

Gardens in all their May glory are getting gouged. A Rockridger reports: "A young woman ... has been seen cutting roses from my and my neighbor's front yards. ... White long-stemmed roses were stolen a few weeks ago @ 8am ... my orange roses were stolen this morning." Another laments: "My beautiful viburnum plant, finally recovered from devastating vandalism two years ago, was vandalized last night. ... I had installed a motion detector light with the hope that it would deter them. No luck. ... The sad thing is that these flowers do not last once picked." A Montclairian mourns "a variegated agave ... taken from our front garden, probably overnight." A Montclair neighborhood-watch posting notes 72 succulents snatched from "inside our yard, inside our gate," from an area "not visible from the street. ... If anyone sees a large quantity of small succulents (mostly Echevarias) being planted in the area, please let us know."

Grave Danger

Someone who clearly wasn't afraid of ghosts stole thirty bronze headstone nameplates from Kensington's Sunset Cemetery last month. Staff at a local recycling center refused to buy them, "because they looked stolen," but gave inquiring officers the license-plate number of the car in which they had arrived, according to a KPD report. The plate led cops to a Rodeo resident connected with a series of Contra Costa County power-tool heists. He was arrested, but the plates weren't found.

Hell's Bells

In other Kensington crime news, on April 22 a resident called the cops and, according to the police log, "complained about loud wind chimes."

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