Monday, February 4, 2008

Cabin Break In - Lessons Learned

The general protection plan for the cabin was twofold. The first layer of protection was to blend into the background...not stand out. And secondly the close proximity to neighbors would be enough to dissuade most thieves. The doors and windows are always locked. Naively I thought this would be enough, and it was for nearly seven years.

What Happened

Sometime between Christmas of 2007 and February 2nd 2008 some people broke into my cabin and made off with roughly two thousand dollars worth of stuff. Although most of the stuff taken was used-up or completely non-working crap, the thought that my “survival retreat” was so easily breached and looted was very discomforting.

I think I had grown complacent in my approach to safety outside of my sightline. Fortunately, this unfortunate event happened now when all they wanted was some crap to sell off rather than later when my life supplies would be at stake. In March I had planned on installing an upgraded power supply system complete with new solar panels and wind generator, luckily this incident did not take place in April!

The odd part is what they took and the strange desperation involved in the act itself. Here are some of the items…try to profile the culprits.

What they took: six of nine solar panels, charge controller, generator, air compressor, gundig crank radio, alarm clock, telescope, two pair of binoculars, shot gun, 22 rifle, first generation night vision scope, and booze.

Now everything they took had to be carried to their vehicle at the roadside, about one hundred and twenty feet away, through two feet of snow. They drank the booze on site…and there was a lot of booze. There were near full bottles of whiskey, vodka, rum and some beer. All the pictures were taken off the walls and they pretty much trashed the place but didn’t do any structural damage. They started to remove all the copper wire but I found it in a pile. My guess is they gained entry by forcing the door; it was open and still locked but not broken.

The solar panels were weak and going to be moved onto a solar water heater circulation pump this summer after they were replaced. The generator was dead and the air compressor on its last leg. The night scope, telescope and binoculars were all cheap and for star watching not military grade.

What they left: framing nail gun, roofing nail gun, finishing nail gun, twenty thousand btu kerosene heater, ten thousand btu kerosene heater, water pumps, portable water heater, brand new outback stove and oven, two burner camp stove, hidden good generator, battery powered chainsaw, all of the DVD’s, a blackberry handheld which I hadn’t used in ages, all the hand tools and all the food.

The nail guns were placed by the door like they wanted them but didn’t take. They didn’t touch any of the other items listed above.

Empty Cabin Protection

I need four four layers of defense for my uninhabited retreat cabin:

The first layer is strategic location, it should not be easy to find. Your cabin should be unassuming; you want to look like you don’t have anything they would want. Also, know your neighbors they are the best deterrent.

The second is an unwelcoming approach, make visitors uncomfortable as they get near your cabin. You should have wilderness cameras installed in a way that covers the cabin and the approach. Make sure the flash goes off at night, this will freak the trespassers out. Lot of signs warning people that they are being recorded and that they will be shot. Also some tire shredders installed in the driveway would be helpful be sure you have battery powered motion activated lights to illuminate the dark at night.

The third is secured entry; windows and doors should be locked and not easily breached. Windows need to be covered with metal shutters and doors should be of a solid construction. Always lock.

The fourth is dissuasive comfort; if they get inside make them want to leave immediately. A powerful alarm system that triggers when the door is opened and doesn’t shut off for an hour or so will deter most would be thieves it also alerts the neighbors. Additionally, motioned activated pepper spray can ruin a wonderful evening of robbery if they decide to come in through a window (I love this product).

I am now using a storage unit in a nearby town so there is nothing of value in the cabin until I live on site. This should reduce the temptation.

Occupied Cabin Protection

When I am there all the protection for an empty cabin should be in place with an additional three things.

One, get a large outdoor dog possibly a German Sheppard for protection. I have two small dogs that are great for alerting me to danger but not the best at driving away trespassers.

Two, install motion sensors that will notify you when someone is approaching. These are wireless, battery operated and invisible to a trespasser. I will place at least one on the road approaching my cabin and a couple of other on the trails through the land. You also need a method to communicate with your neighbors to let them know what is going on, I would recommend a GMRS two way radio.

Lastly, get a very big gun and have the ability to use it. Signs should be posted throughout the site warning that trespassers will be shot without warning. Earn a reputation as someone not to be messed with in whatever method necessary.

There are other things but I will not elaborate on them in an open forum.

Never Again!


Future Farmer said...


Good plan . I keep all my stuff in storage also and only bring out the things I need for camping when I am there.

The German Shepherd would be great.
I would station him near the driveway entrance. See Donna Johnson for German Shepherd info. They had 3 last time I saw them.

I may just hook up to the grid when I move out there for starters as there is nothing they can steal with that system. Maybe add a few batteries for backup.

Keep the faith . I think these guys will be caught .

Kyle D said...

On the issue of tire shredders: It has been discussed on before and I believe they are illegal in MANY states. Even if they are defensive in nature, you open yourself to legal action if you place them in your driveway. I think they are good to have for if things get REAL bad, then go ahead and throw them out.

Kyle D

theotherryan said...

I'm baffled the left the tools in the cabin. On kyles train of thought I would strongly suggest that you think aweful hard about the motion activated pepper spray and how it opens up the potential for civil and possibly even criminal prosecution.

Think about shatter resistant film for the windows. It basicall makes normal glass act like a windshield.

Otherwise it seems like you have a well rounded perspective on the needed improvements. Consider a cache away from the cabin to keep some of the stuff so it can be on site but not in the cabin. Don't underestimate the ADT placard by the front door even if theres not a proper system in place.

For security when the retreat is occupied a boom stick (12 gauge) and a dog (really an breed will do) are the best way to go.

oldman in Boonies said...

there just doesn't seem to be any logic for what people will steal. It sounds like they got drunk and got tired of carrying stuff to thier truck, so they left. I'll bet they went to a local bar for more booze and to brag or fence what they did take. So the question is for unattended retreats is having booze a good or bad idea? It seems to have worked in your favor. I also think they were casing your place and knew what was there.

Your plan sounds good. Being ever alert and vigulant is your best defense along with that big gun....

Anonymous said...

Generally speaking: How safe is it to keep your stuff in the public storage facility?

I don't mean yours specifically-- I mean in general, are these places pretty safe?


Future Farmer said...

The owner of the storage facility I use lives right across from it and keeps a good eye on the place .

All entrances can be seen from the main road. I also use 2 monster locks on it .

judyofthewoods said...

I also believe that the little mishaps are there to prevent bigger ones. The brake in can be seen as a cold run, like your bug-out drill.
On the flash idea, I had another one. If you have a little electrical or electronics experience, you can wire up a motion sensor to a fairly weak light at about hip height which stays on and looks like it could be a flash light. The intruder will probably look at it instinctively. Then a timer with a delay of a couple or so seconds triggers a very bright flash or halogen spot light. The delay has to be long enough for them to look at the weaker light and register it, then there is a better chance of hitting them square in the eye with that flash. It could also trigger a recording of footsteps or just a twig cracking to add to the illusion that there is someone. And how about a red dot from a cheap laser spirit level or flip chart pointer? Think Blair Witch Project. If they still went on to brake in, there could be in full view a nativity-like display. It would be a model of your cabin and little rag dolls in the act of doing a burglary. The rag dolls would have pins stuck in them voodoo-style. If that didn't freak them out! That would also work if they came in daylight, which the previous psyops wouldn't. The last idea should be considered carefully though. If 'The Handmaide's Tale' came to pass those perpetrators could end up your accusers.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, lady... But you're definitely freaking me out.

- CRJ.

judyofthewoods said...

Harmless in this case, but effective. I saw the Blair Witch Project, and thought it was one of the creepiest film I've ever seen, and all it was was a few well placed sticks and stones, a little noise and a lot of imagination. The voodoo idea was just an exaggeration, because those guys might not get anything as subtle as a few stones and sticks. Its all context. But I think your reaction proves my point. And no, I do not practice voodoo or witchcraft.

BigBear said...

A neighbor of mine has a tire shredder so I think it is legal but might pass on this one. I don't want to run over it.

The pepper spray I am going to pursue but will talk to a lawyer about it first. Colorado has very liberal Make My Day laws. It is non lethal protection aimed at illegal entry.

BigBear said...

Oldman in the boonies,

It is kinda weird, I also think they just got to drunk to steal more. Next batch of booze left at the cabin will have a nice powerful laxative added to the mix.

BigBear said...


I also love Blair Witch Project...I was thinking about hanging bones from the trees on the approach.

When I first bought the land down there I found several trees with these horrible looking rusted metal hooks hanging from them by chains. They were five I think and all situated around an old fire pit very creepy. Of course now I know they were probably for hanging deer or elk for dressing but at the time it really made an impact. So something like that might really work.

judyofthewoods said...

Hi, hi, the laxative had crossed my mind too, but I didn't want to suggest - it could backfire in a way that could leave you with even more of a mess, if you get my drift...

judyofthewoods said...

Chris, the bones just reminded me of what a friend of mine did. He also lives in the boonies, but being in the UK that is never far enough from so-called civilization, and before he bought his land (woodland on the side of a moorland mountain) gangs from the city would bring stolen cars up there, strip them down and then torch the shell. There was quite a pile of those wrecked cars. When he moved to his land, he also cultivated a tough image (though he is a very sweet guy) and got hold of a bunch of goats heads, from somewhere. He put the heads, all with horns, on trees around the place. He has had very little trouble in over ten years of living there, and no more car stripping, even though that was a fair distance from the trailer where he lives, and with plenty of trees to shield any activity. The skulls were not the only reason, but I'm sure they contributed.

Anonymous said...

Having had something similar happen years ago, my recommendations are:

1) NOTHING that will cause any harm since it can backfire on you at the worst time (Murphy rules!). IxNea on the traps. Sounds like a good idea until one of them trips off on you or your neighbors/good guys trying to look out for you.

2) PSYOPS rule! Your best defense is to scare them off. Lots of signs. IR trips for noise (I like barking dogs and a later shotgun round recording) and spot lights are best. Works on deer and coyotes too. Make sure you have a good cutoff so it doesn't drive you crazy when you are there!

3) Cement and secure in a good hidden FIREPROOF safe for the really valuable/dangerous stuff esp. ammo and irreplaceables. You're lucky they didn't burn the place down on the way out to cover their tracks!

Probably druggies looking for something to pawn off. God will "take care of them" one way or another eventually.

judyofthewoods said...

A few more thoughts on recordings:

Sound quality - any recording which goes on for more than a brief moment will be obvious as a recording unless the sound system is top quality. Brief noises probably work best, just long enough to register.

Types - dog growling. A growling dog sounds even more threatening than a barking one, and you can probably get away with a crappier sound system. Space the growls, short bursts, getting more agitated. Twig snapping, vegetation moving (like a bush being brushed by). A male voice whispering something brief. No one whispers, unless there is someone or something else to whisper to, so we are multiplying our virtual guards. There could be an 'answer'.

Placement - the sound will be more realistic, if it comes from a level or source which is congruent with the sound, like a twig and dog growl from a lower level, voice from head height. Rigging two or more speakers could 'surround' the intruders.

Timing - short bursts are best, they won't have time to quite make out what is exactly happening, and the more is left to the imagination, the more effective it is. The sound should only be a trigger for their own thoughts. The gaps and sequence have to 'tell a story' .

By the way, Robinson Crusoe fended off some pirates or natives on his island by rigging a string of guns to go off together so that the pirates/natives thought they were outnumbered by an aggressive force. The book is based on a true story. Regardless, its a good read, and gets much better into the mind of the lone survivor than any film could. I'd recommend it. said...

My only concern about the motion released pepper spray on a remote cabin is that you might seriously piss them off. Why does that matter? I could be the difference between having them rob you and having them rob you and torch the cabin.

Maine is full of remote cabins in the North Woods. The general rule of thumb is to just leave nothing of value in it.

Anonymous said...

Look up Nadir Khalili of the Hesperia California Institute in the internet. Has some awesome good ideas on buildings. I am particularly drawn to the sandbag igloo structure, as its entirely DIY with small materials, and is self supporting without structure or foundation. What is it - basically, an round igloo made with sandbags. Other than having to finish exterior with type of skin to preserve bags, its good to go. Round shape doesn't scream 'House over here!', so helps with security.


The above link is a picture I sketched out for it. The porch is actually cattle fencing panels inserted overhead (above head storage) to shade exterior walls and provide extra living space around.

Great blog site!

Anonymous said...

If you look at most public storage places you will find that opening the ceiling of your unit will give you access to those of your neighbors. Also true in many condominium projects. Pretty simple to rent a unit, move into the adjoining units, loot them and leave undeterred.

BigBear said...

Both storage units where fine and nothing was taken. They are now empty.