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Christmas Bonus : Church recovers video recorder with clues to the thieves on tape.

December 24, 1987|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

Think of it as a Christmas bonus.

That's the way the Rev. Curtis Page is looking at the unusual accessory that came this week with a computer and videotape recorder delivered to his Kirk o' the Valley Presbyterian Church in Reseda.

Page was happy enough to get the equipment, which was recovered by police after being stolen in an Oct. 29 break-in at the church. But the minister wasn't expecting also to be handed what could be the solution to the burglary.

When Page plugged in the recovered recorder to see if it still worked, a videocassette left in the machine started whirring. Then a home movie apparently made by the church thieves popped up on the TV screen.

"I couldn't believe it," Page said Wednesday. "They aimed the camera around the room and showed some of our stolen stuff. It was clearly visible.

"There were pictures of a couple of people walking into the room and of a woman and of a baby and a woman. The person taking the pictures even identified himself by his nickname. There was about four minutes of this."

The video images were clear--although the camera work was shaky. "The color wasn't good . . . they were clearly trying out equipment they weren't familiar with. It didn't look like they had an instruction manual."

Page turned the tape over to Los Angeles police, who quickly reopened their investigation of the break-in.

Authorities said they recovered the stolen church property in November while searching a Van Nuys home during investigation of an assault case.

Authorities were unable to charge the assault suspect with the church burglary because his fingerprints did not match those left at the crime scene.

"We're going to carefully view it," Detective Fred Duitsman said Wednesday of the home-movie tape. "We'd like to match up the people on the tape with the fingerprints from the church."

Duitsman said he has investigated crimes where burglars have taken pictures of each other with stolen still cameras. "But video's relatively new," he said.

According to Duitsman, investigators discovered the video recorder and computer at the Van Nuys home of David W. Torgerson, 21, when they served a search warrant in an assault investigation. Torgerson denied stealing the equipment, saying he had received it from another person in exchange for drugs, Duitsman said.

Authorities traced the stolen equipment back to the Kirk o' the Valley after discovering that a disk in the computer contained church records, Duitsman said.

The electronic gear had been held as evidence until Torgerson's court date last Thursday.

Torgerson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of brandishing a firearm, Van Nuys Municipal Court officials said. A charge of receiving stolen property was dismissed as part of a plea bargain, officials said.

Church leaders, meanwhile, have increased security around their sanctuary, Page said.

"Churches are targets," Page said. "Our videotape recorder has been stolen six or seven times. Every time we replace it, it's stolen again."

If the latest thieves are caught because of their home movie, it won't be the first time that burglars have met their match at the church, he said.

"About three years ago, the church janitor surprised someone breaking in and let the air out of his tires, and then Maced him . . . ," Page said.

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