Matches and Charcoal 

Escaping criminals toss guns around, jeans get jacked, and a missing man's car puzzles Berkeley police.

When you disappear without a trace, it's like one of those childhood games in which someone shouts Freeze and everyone freezes. Because you haven't been killed in plain sight. You haven't been found bled out behind a bathroom door, bloated in a sunken car. Such scenarios mess your loved ones up, but even if they never know how it happened, at least they know where you are, which is: gone.

Last fall, a friend overdosed on pills. She was only dead a day when we persuaded cops to enter her apartment, where they found her. She left no note (unlike her, a writer, yet like her, passive-aggressive), but she had tried suicide before. Had she done this in the wilds, her tiny frame soon swathed in snow, she would have simply disappeared. And picturing her slain, abducted, lost, or sneaking away with a new identity (she had huge debts), we wouldn't have known whether to feel sorrow, fear, or fury. Freeze.

When Rice University student Matt Wilson's silver Dodge Neon was found parked on Allston Way on June 10, Berkeley cops found no evidence of foul play. But nor did they find Wilson, a hardworking 21-year-old computer-science major who — according to a timeline supplied by loved ones at FindMattWilson.org — bought matches and charcoal, withdrew $500 from a Houston ATM, and filled his car with gas on December 14. Then: poof. He never took his finals.

The car-find sparked online disputes between associates of the red-ringletted sci-fi fan. "Mom is handling the news about the car well," wrote a sibling. "The way we (the family) see it, it's good news in a way. ... To me, it's obvious this was something he had planned." But a pal scorned suggestions that Wilson was lured to Berkeley by the UC oak protest: "I can attest that he never had any political ideals. ... He always steered clear of anything overtly political ... he was reluctant to listen to music if it contained a manifestly political message no matter the leanings. ... He and I had only ever discussed Berkeley in reference to it being a center of counterculture, especially in [the] '60s, but it was never something he expressed interest in. Matt ... would (rightly) scoff at the stereotypical acid-crazed hippie."

And since Wilson drove by choice 2,000 miles to an über-political hippie hub, why ditch his car? "In Houston," writes his sister Kymberlee, "he didn't drive it much anyway. He usually walked from his apartment to class and just drove occasionally. Maybe this is the reason he abandoned his car in Berkeley — he didn't need it because he could walk most places." Then why not sell it? She adds that there has been no activity on his computer, cell phone, e-mail addresses, or bank accounts since he vanished. If you vanished, where would you be?

Gunslingers

Flying-weapons alert. Fleeing Oakland cops across a Coolidge Avenue backyard on June 11, "a known gang member ... threw a firearm over a wall," according to a police report. "The firearm struck the concrete" and went off before the escapee, Rene Arias, was caught. One week later, a suspected Brentwood marijuana grower on the lam in his car tossed a gun into his backseat, where his kids were, according to Antioch police.

Twinkle, Twinkle

If you're going to shoplift, especially at a clothing boutique, don't dress in a way that says "Look at me!" According to the Berkeley police log, a woman who stole clothes from Buffalo Exchange on June 14 wore an "inside-out yellow short-sleeve blouse, dark jeans with yellow stitching, and sparkly purple shoes." Stealthier was the perp who stole thirty pairs of jeans from Elements on College Avenue on June 17, according to the log: In the wee hours, he or she smashed in the door.

Girl Trouble

On a crime watch site, an Oaklander reports what befell two neighbors: "On Friday the 13th at 11:30 AM a young black girl in her early teens brazenly robbed a house in the 300 block of 50th Street. The homeowners are a senior couple in their 90s. The frail 95 year old homeowner was in his front yard and his wife was in the back of the house. ... The perpetrator walked past the owner, through the unlocked front door, and took a purse located in the front room. She left before the owner could notify his wife. ... The girl was wearing a turquoise shirt and riding a foot scooter." Another neighbor described a similar experience the next day when, hearing her dog bark, she "went to the door to see who he was barking at. There was a young girl just as you describe in front of my neighbor's door. We live in a duplex and share the same porch. ... I knew my neighbor wasn't home so I asked her if she needed something. I know my neighbor well enough to know that whatever purpose the girl might have w/ her she would have w/ me. The girl said something like, 'I am at your neighbors,' which didn't make any sense. I told her my neighbors weren't home, and she ran off and said, 'I'll come back when they are.' She was riding a little neon green bike ... way too small for her."

Losers and Wieners

Ten juveniles jumped a fourteen-year-old at Hayward BART station on June 17 and demanded cash. According to the log; "the group also tried to take his earrings." Four suspects were chased down and caught. Later that day at Hayward BART, "Two males ages 16-20 yrs. stole a money box from the hot dog vendor."

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