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​We Watched the Australian Police Try to Find Owners for 1,000 Pairs of Stolen Shoes

Last month a 57-year-old Melbourne man was arrested for stealing a crazy amount of shoes over a period of several years. On Monday the police held a collection day to give them back.
April 14, 2015, 3:30pm

Last month, a 57-year-old man was arrested in Melbourne for stealing shoes. This came about after a 19-year-old woman lost a pair of Vans from her front door. She bought a new pair, as many would, and placed them back at the front door with a CCTV camera. The shoes promptly disappeared—but the woman had captured footage of a man on a bike skulking around her doorstep. When her third pair disappeared, she called the police and handed over the footage. The ensuing investigation eventually led to a man in nearby Kilsyth.


Police still aren't sure exactly how long he was stealing shoes

Arriving at the Kilsyth address, police discovered a house littered with stolen shoes. As they told me, they found nearly a thousand pairs in total, stuffed into cupboards and drawers and strewn in piles that ironically buried his vacuum cleaner. He was charged with theft, but is yet to be sentenced.

The scene at the police station

On Monday afternoon the Mooroolbark police held a collection day for the shoes. Local residents who'd lost footwear were invited to look through the collection. I went along to ask some questions, starting with, "who does this?"

Senior Constable Peter Baker holds up his favorite pairs.

"The guy had a routine," explained Senior Constable Peter Baker. "He'd get up every morning at 4 AM and ride down the street. He had the same path every day, with the same houses and he'd look up the driveways. If he saw shoes he liked, he'd take them." Barker went on to explain that shoe snatcher would finish the morning with a coffee and a hot dog at 7-Eleven. He didn't work, he didn't have friends, and as the constable explained, "his one purpose in life was to steal shoes."

All visitors signed a book so the police could compile victim statements.

Mooroolbark police station has a sort of garage attached to it. I got there to see they'd laid the shoes out over the floor. There were a few people milling about looking through the assembled footwear. One guy had lost two pairs of expensive runners. "Yeah it's kind of funny now," he said. "But not at the time. When it happened I was so pissed off I called the cops." He was looking around but couldn't find his pair.


These grey guys were vastly overrepresented.

It was surprising how similar the shoes were. The thief obviously had a preference for Vans-style skate shoes and all the rip-off variants you get from Target. Rubber soles, canvas sides, in white, black, or gray. He also didn't seem to care if they were clean. Some were clearly from bins.

"He didn't wear them," explained Barker. "He told me that he once couldn't get into a pub wearing moccasins, so he wore a pair of the shoes. That was the only time." Constable Barker explained that aside from that example, the thief claimed he wore nothing but flip-flops and moccasins." As mentioned, there were virtually no flip-flops or moccasins about. Just a single pair of dolphin slippers.

Taylor, not finding her shoes

Another local named Taylor showed up. She'd lost a pair of Havaianas from her doorstep a few months back. "I looked everywhere," she said. "When I heard this story it made sense so I came to look." Despite hoping, she didn't found them either. "My friends said I shouldn't bother because they'd be too gross to wear, but they're plastic. I'd just wash them off."

You get the picture

Regardless of what Taylor thought of the motive, Senior Constable Barker insisted the shoes weren't stolen for sexual gratification. "The guy told me he was from a poor background. When he grew up he could never afford cool shoes and obviously saw this canvas style as being cool." This struck me as sad and Barker agreed. "He's big guy with tattoos, but he's also a big puppy," the cop said. "Actually the saddest part is that we confiscated his bike. We think it was stolen so I don't know what he's going to do now. He didn't have anything else going on."

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