Police Arrest Couple Behind Craigslist Ransacking Hoax

0401081inside1.jpgIt took only a week. Police have arrested a couple who allegedly posted the Craigslist ad offering the contents of Robert Salisbury’s home. They are Brandon and Amber Herbert and ideally they will not be the last people to be charged.

There is a fascinating case emerging from Oregon. Someone posted a couple of hoax ads on Craigslist that announced that Robert Salisbury had left the area and that all of his possessions were free for the taking, including a horse. Salisbury found people ransacking his home and tried to stop people who had their trucks filled with his belongings. They refused to give them back and in doing so could be (and should be) charged criminally and sued civilly. As for Craigslist, it is notable that this is not the first time this type of hoax has been perpetrated through its site.

The ads appeared on Saturday afternoon and Salisbury learned about it when a woman called about wanting to take his horse.

On his way home he stopped a truck loaded down with his work ladders, lawn mower and weed eater.

“I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back,” Salisbury said. “They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did.”

The driver sped away after rebuking Salisbury. On his way home he spotted other cars filled with his belongings.

Once home he was greeted by close to 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch.

The trespassers, armed with printouts of the ad, tried to brush him off. “They honestly thought that because it appeared on the Internet it was true,” Salisbury said. “It boggles the mind.”

Jacksonville police and Jackson County sheriff’s deputies arrived but by then several cars packed with Salisbury’s property had fled.

He turned some license plate numbers over to police.

Craigslist may be able to avoid liability under prior rulings and federal legislation protecting such sites, click here. Some novel legal theories like nuisance are possible, given the fact that this is not the first time that this hoax has occurred on Craigslist, click here and here.

However, even if Craigslist is immune from lawsuit, these obviously clueless or guileless people can be pursued. While they were waiving around the printouts from Craiglist, such papers would do little more than create a limited claim of good faith. However, when confronted by Salisbury, they clearly committed theft and conversion when they refused to yield to his demand or confirm the facts. This is akin to saying that someone on the street said that I could take your television and I am not about to hear anything different from you. Even the claim of good faith before the confrontation is shaky since it is a bizarre and unlikely event. There is a concept of willful blindness to such facts. There is also negligence, conversion, trespass, and trespass to chattel in tort that are available to Salisbury.

This is a case where a lawsuit would do some of these people good. I cannot imagine someone ransacking an individual’s home and then refusing to yield to his demand to stop and return the items under a claim of rightful possession. It is not simply the fact that it is a moronic legal claim, but it shows an entire absence of any moral or ethical values.

The couple was identified after police issued a subpoena for Craigslist records. They will face burglary and computer crime charges.

For the full story and criminal complaint, click here

5 thoughts on “Police Arrest Couple Behind Craigslist Ransacking Hoax”

  1. Keith:

    You make some excellent points. However, this case really isn’t about circumventing the political system. It is about the relative deference that people give different evidence when deciding to act. Our tendency to over discount the importance of the surroundings is generally referred to as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

    Social psychology tells us that a person’s surroundings powerfully affect his actions because the surroundings provide clues on how to act. Here, the number of burglars confirmed everyone else’s expectations—this was a bunch of free stuff. Then the true owner comes home. He appears to be angry about being late to the sale, demanding his right to the stuff. For the craigslister, was it entirely unreasonable to believe the advertisement and dozens of people over the true owner?

    What if the opposite situation were true? It was free stuff but the “owner” was really a counterfeit, trying to swindle loot off of the people who were rightfully claiming it. Should we expect 30 people to relinquish the fruits of their bargain hunting to a freaked out guy yelling at everyone without offering any objective evidence of ownership?

    I agree, the people should have stopped to confirm the facts after the owner established, to a reasonable person in that situation, that he was the true owner. However, until that point, were the craigslisters acting unreasonably?

  2. The problem for me is that “Countdown” is rapidly becoming predictable and generic; a distressing development for a show that really has its own internal vibe and attitude. I still watch the show every night, but there are times when my interest fades, and I find myself hitting the fast forward button to get through a segment.

    The challenge of doing a show like “Countdown” is that when it’s going well, the natural inclination is to fall into a routine. Every day is a scramble to put together guests and topics, and you find yourself falling back on the same familiar faces. And so it is with “Countdown,” which tends to draw its regular guests from a roster of about seven or eight regulars.

    Dana Milbank, Jonathan Alter, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Maria Milito during “American Idol” season…it’s a guest list any longtime “Countdown” viewer can rattle off pretty quickly. There’s nothing wrong with any of these folks, they all rightfully deserve camera time and attention.

    But they’re also appearing on “Countdown” because they tend to reflect Olbermann’s opinions on politics and pop culture, and at some point, it tends to be all a bit intellectually incestuous. The typical conversation consists of Olbermann saying, “Point a, point b and then point c.” Then the guest agrees with all three points, and perhaps brings in point b2 as a way of expanding the conversation. It all has a “Groundhog’s Day” quality to it that I find maddening.


  3. The guy that started Craigs List is a Liberal. Craigs list has now become a premier place for nefarious men & women to “advertise” because there are zero controls, just the kind of society Liberals love.

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