THE BOXOFFICE CAPER

By Jean Marie Stine


CITY OF SAN LEANDRO

MUNICIPAL POLICE DEPARTMENT

FELONY CRIME INVESTIGATION REPORT

DATE: 12/24/00

TIME: 11:45 p.m.

INVESTIGATING OFFICER: G. PEYTON WERTENBAKER

CASE NO.: R-124C-41

AMOUNT INVOLVED (ESTIMATED): $4,500.00

TYPE OF REPORT: INITIAL

SUMMARY OF INVESTIGATION:

8:32 p.m. Manager, Rialto Theater phoned. Reported suspected robbery. Christmas show receipts missing from walk-in safe.

8:50 p.m. Arrived Rialto, met with Manager, Forrest Ackerman. Heavy set man in fifties. Smell of alcohol on breath.

Ackerman took me into theater office. Showed me safe. Typical Williamson walk-in.

The receipts for the night's special Christmas show, $4,500.00 (est.) had disappeared from safe sometime between 8 and 8:30.

Ackerman said only three people had access to safe: himself, the boxoffice attendant, Leigh Brackett, and the assistant manager, Hugo Gernsback, who was in charge of the concession counter.

Ackerman said boxoffice and concession stand receipts had been put in the safe under his supervision around 8. p.m.

Ackerman he was helping close down the boxoffice from 8:05 to 8:20 when he was called to help an usher with a rowdy patron around.

He discovered the suspected theft when he returned around 8:30. Says he immediately phoned police.

Asked Ackerman if he had any idea who might have taken the money.

Ackerman said he'd seen the asst. manager, Gernsback, returning to the concession stand from what appeared to be the direction of the office around 8:15. Gernsback's duties would not have normally taken him to office after depositing the concession stand receipts in the safe at 8 p.m.

9:10 p.m. Interviewed, Mrs. Brackett on Ackerman's advice. The boxoffice attendant was a dark-hired woman in mid-thirties, small wedding ring, third finger left hand).

Mrs. Brackett, corroborated Ackerman's story. Said she, too, saw Gernsback leaving the office around 8:15.

Added that Gernsback had seemed to be putting a batch of keys in his pocket.

9:20 p.m. Interviewed Gernsback. Young then blond man in early twenties. Wears San Leandro Community College ring. Asked him to describe his actions since receipts placed in safe.

Gernsback said he had been kept busy cleaning up at the concession counter until 8:10. Then he had sent the girl who filled the orders while he operated the cash register home for the night.

Said her name was Hazel Held. Gave her address as 3636 Experimenter Blvd. Confirmed she had no access to theater office or the safe.

Gernsback claimed he had remained behind the counter until Ackerman emerged from the office at 8:30 and announced he'd discovered the receipts were missing.

Denied he'd left the concession stand. Said his job was to remain there until forty-five minutes after the last show started to serve patrons who decided they wanted more popcorn midway through the feature.

When I said a witness thought they had seen him near the men's room around 8:15, Gernsback said he could not have been there at that time, because at 8:15 he was serving a woman who became quiet angry because the concession stand had sold out of chocklet covered rasins and gumdrops. She had come out of the autitorium complaining under her breath about the film's nudity about and remained arguing until about 8:20.

Said he had not seen Ackerman or Mrs. Brackett since they had joined together to deposit the night's receipts.

9:30 p.m. Had usher find woman in question, Mrs. Lilith Lorraine. She confirmed Gernsback's account.

9:40 p.m. Interviewed usher, Roberta Olsen. Late teens, not too much make up. San Leandro C.C. ring. Polite. She confirmed Ackerman's story about rowdy patron. Also placed time at around 8:20.

Verified that neither Ackerman, Mrs. Brackett or Gernsback could have left Rialto between 8 and 8:30, when money reported missing.

9:50 p.m. Asked Ackerman, Mrs. Brackett, Gernsback if they were willing to be searched and to have their locker's searched. Warned them that they had the right to refuse and the right to an attorney.

All three agreed, although Gernsback was clearly reluctant.

10:00 p.m. I searched the two men. Contacted station, requested female officer to search Mrs. Mrs. Brackett, and two patrolcar units for backup.

Neither of the men had any portion of the $4,500.00 on their person.

10:10 p.m. Searched lockers with Ackerman, Mrs. Brackett and Gernsback as witnesses.

Search of Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett lockers negative.

Search of Gernsback's locker turned up $300.00 in $20.00 bills.

I asked him what the money was doing in his locker. Gernsback licked lips, betrayed other signs of nervousness. Said money was his, he had just taken it out of his bank teller machine. Gernsback appeared to be making up at least part of this story.

Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett became excited at sight of twenties. Said they might be able to identify some of the bills.

They went through the stack. They found a torn bill, and a bill with a stain on it they said they remembered taking in during the night.

Gernsback became pale and stuttered that it wasn't the theater receipts. That it was his money. He repeated that he had just gotten it from an automatic teller machine.

Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett stated that they were positive that the money I'd found in Gernsback's locker was from the Rialto receipts.

I asked if they would be prepared to accompany me to headquarters and sign statements to that effect.

If so, I told them, I was prepared to take Gernsback into custody.

10:15 p.m. Officer Catherine Moore and patrolcar officers arrived. I had officer Moore search Mrs. Brackett.

This search produced negative results.

10:20: The night's show let out and the lobby began to fill with customers.

I left Mrs. Brackett and Gernsback with Sgt. Moore and accompanied Ackerman and Olsen to front of theater, where they saw the patrons out the doors.

Observed both closely, neither made an attempt to pass anything to any departing patron.

As the last patrons were leaving, a tall, red haired man who was obviously drunk came up to the manager.

Man complained about the way manager and usher had treated him earlier. It was clear this was the drunk they had trouble with at 8:20 and further corroborated their story.

Ackerman tried to be polite but man continued to shove him.

I separated the two.

The drunk continued to threaten Ackerman over my shoulder.

I pushed the man into a corner and threatened to have him arrested if he didn't leave quietly.

This settled him down. He promised to leave immediately and not bother anyone.

The man started to weave unsteadily out the door.

I detailed uniform officer Ray Cummings to stop the man from driving home in that condition and take him there in a patrolcar instead.

10:40 p.m. Returned to theater office.

Asked Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett if they were prepared to swear money found in Gernsback's locker was part of the missing theater receipts.

Both said they were.

Gernsback continued to maintain his innocence.

I told him that I was sorry, but under the circumstances I had no choice but to place him under arrest.

I read Gernsback his rights.

10:50 p.m. Then I had two uniform officers take him in for booking -- grand theft, the Rialto boxoffice receipts.

I sent Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett to headquarters with Sgt. Moore. Instructed her to have stenographer take their statements.

11:00 p.m. Arrived home of Hazel Held, the woman who assisted Gernsback at the concession stand. (Had uniform officer Tabakow call ahead and confirm that she was up and was willing to be interviewed.)

Held, blond young woman in late teens. Hair in curlers. Wore bathrobe. Lives with mother.

Asked her to describe her movements for evening.

Held replied that she had called her mother for a ride when Gernsback let her go at 8:10. Her mother lived near by and had picked her up at 8:20. They had driven straight home where she had began to perm her hair.

Held's mother supported this story.

Asked Held if she had seen anyone near the theater office around the time she was leaving.

She replied in the affirmative.

I asked if she could identify the figure.

Held stated that she could not. Explained she had been outside the theater at the time. It was just as her mother was pulling up at 8:20. Held had glanced back toward the theater, and through the plateglass doors, glimpsed a figure by the theater office -- but not clearly enough to see who it was.

11:20 p.m. Arrived Merritt Apartments. Asked officer Ray Cummings if suspect had left apartment since entering.

Cummings replied in the negative.

We waited.

A few minutes later Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett.

We gave them time to get settled and then knocked on the front door. 11:25 p.m. The man who had appeared to be drunk at the theater answered the door.

I told him if his name was Edmond Brackett. He said it was.

I identified myself, and informed him that I had a warrant to search his apartment.

I signaled the other officers gathered down the hall.

We entered but no search was necessary.

The stolen Rialto receipts were piled in the middle of the Brackett's coffee table.

Ackerman was in the midst of counting them.

Arrested Forest Ackerman, Rialto manager, Leigh Brackett, boxoffice attendant, and Edmond Brackett, her husband.

Charges: Grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft. The district attorney's office may find others.

Additional Charges: Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett, perjury (they signed the statements against Gernsback).

11:40 p.m. Returned to headquarters

CONCLUSIONS:

According to Lilith Lorraine, she was arguing with Gernsback at the counter at 8:15. That called Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett's account of having seen Gernsback by the office at that time.

On the other hand, if Held, the counter woman, was telling the truth, she saw someone near the theater office at 8:20 -- when Ackerman was helping the usher quiet a drunken patron.

That left Leigh Brackett, the boxoffice attendant. She was completely alone at 8:20.

The real question was how she planned to get the money out of the theater. She must have known the police would have to be called immediately. Were confederates involved -- inside or outside the theater?.

I let Mrs. Bracket show me herself.

Rather than hauling them all downtown for questioning, I stalled by pretending to search the two men, then phoning for a female officer to search her..

Then I allowed her and Ackerman to kneel side by side while they pretended to examine the $300.00 they'd planted in Gernsback's locker.

Since Ackerman had already been searched and was no longer a suspect, I figured if he was involved, she would try to pass the money to him before she was searched herself. And she did. Then Ackerman passed it to her husband when they pretended to argue after the theater let out..

The scene he'd caused earlier., at 8:20, had been to give Ackerman an alibi and to set up their encounter after the movie was over. They figured that would minimize suspicion.

I saw them pass the money both times (I interviewed Hazel Held to see if I could find evidence that would positively clear Gernsback and implicate Ackerman or Mrs. Brackett more fully.)

I arranged to have Edmond Brackett driven home, presumably because he was too drunk to trust behind a wheel.

I knew he wasn't that drunk. But Mr. Brackett couldn't refuse without giving himself away.

Of course, I really just wanted an officer near him all the time -- so we could keep an eye on the money. I knew Ackerman and the Bracketts weren't about to trust each other over nearly five grand in cash. They were bound to meet divide it up as soon as Ackerman and Mrs. Brackett returned from signing their perjured statements implicating Gernsback.

No wonder Gernsback was nervous and lied about where the money in his locker came from. He knew he was being framed, though not by who, and he thought no one would believe him.

DISPOSITION: CASE CONCLUDED, SUSPECTS ARRESTED.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT:

Arranged for Hugo Gernsback's release. (Saw the glances he and Robert Olsen exchanged, and the class rings they wore. Imagine those two kids will have happy holiday.)



Copyright 2000 Jean Marie Stine

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