‘Telephone Bandit’ strikes at financial aid office, leaves empty-handed

Kayla Brown/File

After a string of robberies around the Bay Area, the “Telephone Bandit” has finally made an appearance in Berkeley. The lead investigator on the case describes the thief as “a man who steals handsets from office buildings, not for monetary gain but because of a profound sentiment for the 1990s.” He has stolen upward of 500 landlines from victimized office spaces, but his attempt in Berkeley was not nearly as successful.

“We believe he monitors communication traffic to determine which spaces have the most phones,” explained the lead investigator. “Given the sheer quantity of calls the financial aid office receives on a daily basis, the bandit logically assumed the office would be a jackpot of old Panasonics. He was wrong.”

Instead of a room full of landlines, the thief would soon come to realize that the entire office only has two telephones, with just one plugged in. He didn’t even bother stealing them, likely figuring that the employees needed them more than he does.

Evidence consists of a hazy video of a man wearing a mask and a Blind Melon T-shirt breaking into the rear entrance. Police also found traces of Lite Brite pegs outside the building. Many have criticized the thief for clinging on to a bygone era, but his actions have actually had some positive effects.

“Our building was long overdue for technological turnover,” said an owner of an office space that was hit last week. “There isn’t exactly a market for used handsets from 1998, so it really accelerated the process of updating the office when the Telephone Bandit came and took them off our hands.”

It’s difficult to think of the bandit as a criminal when both parties seem to benefit — the bandit gets to think about the last time he felt truly happy, and the offices get some much needed modernization.

As for the financial aid office, it finally has good press about its lack of phones, which, for the first time ever, has worked to its advantage. Even if it had hundreds of phones, so long as they were models from 2004 or later, the bandit wouldn’t have bothered to steal them. Yet as it stands, even a thief with a worryingly strong sense of nostalgia can’t bear to take our office’s lone functioning landline.

Contact Ryan Melvin at [email protected].