Book 'Em 

A new scam targets bookshops, anti-Santas purloin presents, and the mystery of the vanishing papers persists.

On the morning of December 1, staff at Diesel: A Bookstore were preparing for that night's multi-author cookbook signing when the phone rang. The distraught caller introduced himself as one of the expected authors, Eric Gower. He said he was in Los Angeles, where his car had been stolen, "and I need you to help me." He asked Diesel's owner John Evans to wire him $150; otherwise he couldn't reach the Oakland signing in time. If Evans did as he asked, the caller said, "I'll give you $400 when I get up there" as a gesture of thanks. In a heart-wracked tone, he added that the filched car had contained a computer housing precious pictures of his mother. "The most suspect thing," Evans tells Apprehension, "was the hysteria and this presumption of familiarity. I'd never met Eric Gower. Why was he calling us?" Business was brisk that morning, the crowd and clamor amplifying Evans' confusion: "I needed a reality check, but I couldn't get one. His timing was quite clever." As a delaying tactic, Diesel's events coordinator Leslie Graham asked the caller to contact Gower's publicist, whom she knew. He agreed to do so. They heard nothing more. That evening, "the real Eric Gower appeared." He hadn't lost a car, hadn't called: "He was stunned," Evans says. And he was creeped out, experiencing "the wobble and shake to your world" that identity theft always wreaks. Did someone pick Gower's name from an events listing and devise what Evans dubs "the Nigerian author scam"?

Guns, germs, and steel: Booksellers went under attack yet again when Hollywood Adult Books on Telegraph near Alcatraz in Oakland was held up at gunpoint on December 16. It matters not whether a store sells Bibles or Swallow My Squirt. Theft is theft.

Teller terror: Locals walking to the December 17 Dimond District Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meeting happened upon a couple who had been mugged minutes before — around 6:30 p.m. — after using the MacArthur Boulevard Bank of America's ATM. As discussed at that night's meeting, the criminal wielded a semiautomatic weapon and escaped bearing the couple's cash, possibly with an accomplice in a car. Reports one of the victims: "The responding officer said the guy would probably be back watching the bank within twenty minutes."

Speed kills: Losing control of his Nissan during a December 11 Doolittle Drive street race, Oakland UPS worker Lawrence Andrada crashed head-on into a Hyundai. He died. The Hyundai driver — who hadn't been involved in the race — was seriously injured. "I'm angry with him," a friend writes of Andrada on her MySpace page, "because it MIGHT have been avoided! SPEED KILLS! ... I'm angry because he FOOLISHLY left his daughter & other family members behind! I'm angry because he was an intelegent, HALARIOUSLY funny & handsome man! I'm angry because," back in high school, "Lawrence was the goofy Phillipino kid with the big hair & a sense of humor that made us laugh til our stomachs hurt! I'm laughing right now just thinking about him! Lawrence, thank u for making those years the best!"

Season's grievings: While an Oaklander was at the hospital giving birth, her home on 56th Street near Gaskill Street was being burgled. As reported on a neighborhood-watch listserv, she returned home on December 13 to find that "someone had ... stolen Christmas — all the presents under the tree, the new bicycles, and lots more. All the gifts for her other children, and everything for the new baby." Neighbors pitched in: "There is a very quiet/strong community of family here on 56th, and these ladies will take care of our own." Anti-Santas struck Oakland again on December 15. As reported on a Temescal-District listserv, a Lawton Avenue resident found that someone or someones had entered her home by removing a screen and opened the presents under her tree, swiping the best ones.

Pulp friction: A private investigator tracked down the duo that was observed last month stealing free newspapers from East Bay curbside dispensers. (According to State Assembly Bill 2612, if you take more than 25 copies with intent to sell, barter, or recycle for cash, it's theft.) At 4:30 a.m. on December 12, investigators from Concord-based Butler & Associates staked out four locations. The male suspect appeared as if on cue near Peet's Coffee on Lakeshore, hurling stacks of papers into the late-model, license plateless green GMC pickup he was seen using last month. After tailing him across Oakland to KMC Paper on Poplar Street, Chris Butler asked to see the man's ID. The man pretended not to know he'd stolen anything. "But he knew, he knew," says investigator Lauren Gard, who participated in the stakeout. "If they didn't think they were stealing, they would have done it in the middle of the day." The haul comprised 1,381 copies of fourteen publications including the East Bay Express, Diablo Dealer, El Mensajero, and, hilariously, Jobs & Careers. Cops arrived. The pair was cited and released, facing a maximum $250 fine, Gard says. The truck was towed. The ensuing week, papers went missing from dispensers again. Same offenders, undaunted? Or others, emboldened by unethical recycling centers, the rising price of paper, and the fact that Oakland lacks a city jail?

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