Bizarre items stolen by car thieves as Aussie city battles epidemic

Thieves have stolen everything from a cleaning mitt to a single shoe from vehicles in Melbourne.

Odd things are being stolen from inside people's cars as a growing number of auto thieves wreak havoc on residents across one of Australia's biggest cities.

Stephanie Bateman, a young woman living in Richmond, Melbourne, is just one of the many who have shared their recent car break-ins online. But it wasn't the break-in itself that left a lasting memory — it was the bizarre things they took.

"They stole the strangest collection of items from my car," she told Yahoo News Australia. "An empty suitcase, a coat, the cleaning mitt I kept in the glove box, my air freshener and my husband's prescription sunnies." Bateman said they left nothing behind.

Left: An image of Stephanie Bateman who has blonde hair and blue eyes. Right: An image of a white, parked car.
Stephanie Bateman was shocked to find 'the strangest collection' of items stolen from her vehicle. Source: Supplied

The apparent increase in car thefts and break-ins in the region has been noticed by Crime Watch Victoria. "There has indeed been an uptick in reports across the city and regional Victoria," Director James Evans told Yahoo. "[We've experienced] an increase in people reaching out for assistance in publishing their stories. We have found the use of social media being a good help in getting the word out to the community."

Thieves taking bizarre items from cars

Stephanie says she does not know exactly how the thieves got into her vehicle, but thinks they entered through the boot which may have not latched properly. "There was no broken window and it wasn't unlocked," she said.

Her cleaning mitt is just the start of what criminals are allegedly accumulating from cars. One woman in Melbourne, who has asked not to be named, had just her cape stolen from her car after it was broken into.

Another shared that her basket of laundry was taken. "They stole our cars two nights ago but also stole our basket of laundry," they said. While others claimed their "sweaty gym clothes" and even just "one shoe" was stolen from their vehicles.

Increasing reports of vehicle thefts and break-ins

Crime Stoppers Victoria has revealed it too has seen an increase in reports of this nature, telling Yahoo crime statistics show "theft of a motor vehicle" and "from a motor vehicle" have both increased year on year.

"Last year there was a 22% increase in the theft of motor vehicles, and an 11% increase in theft from a motor vehicle," they said.

"We have also seen overall reporting to Crime Stoppers increase across a range of crime types. Last year we had our highest number of reports, one every five minutes."

When looking specifically at people stealing from a motor vehicle, the number of offences recorded has jumped between 2019 and 2023 in Melbourne, according to the Crime Statistics Agency (CSA). In the year ending September, 2023 there were 2,181 offences of this nature recorded, increasing from 1,866 in the year ending September, 2019.

An image of a car window smashed in.
Opportunity is a key motivator for car thieves. Source: Getty

Why is there an increase in car break-ins?

Criminologist Doctor Garner Clancey explained there are a "variety of reasons" why particular crimes might increase periodically. "That, at the moment, could well be the cost of living pressures — where people are resorting to shop stealing, shoplifting and other forms of theft to exist," he told Yahoo.

Clancey says motor vehicle theft is more "complicated" than other forms. "There are a variety of 'types of offenders'," he said. These can include:

  • Opportunistic offenders: One of the more common reasons for car theft — if a car is left easily accessible, it opens it up to being broken into, commonly through opening the door or breaking the window.

  • Aggravated burglaries: Clancey reveals there is a growing, "worrying cohort" of young people, particularly males, stealing cars and speeding, or aiming to get into a police pursuit while sometimes filming for social media.

  • Thrill seekers: These offenders break into vehicles for the risk factor rather than financial gain and can cause a spike in break-in reports, Clancey says a small number of offenders can commit a huge number of crimes.

  • Organised crime: more sophisticated, these offenders could be part of current organised criminal networks and often look at stealing luxury vehicles that can then be sold on.

What are the most common items stole from cars?

"It is [often] about opportunity so the single most important thing you can do to prevent your car from being stolen is to lock it. Lock your car and always physically check it is locked and no valuables are visible," Crime Stoppers added.

"The most common property items stolen from vehicles include cash and personal documents, car accessories, power tools, mobile phones, and laptops."

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