It was Monday 16 December: one day before Enzo’s next exam. He was doing some final studying on the University Library’s top floor when he saw something odd. A young man in his late twenties laid his jacket on a laptop lying on the adjacent table, picked both items up and made off with the bundle.

Enzo was pretty sure that it had been a girl sitting next to him a moment earlier. “I had already been there some time,” he notes dryly. He followed the young man and caught up with him in the staircase. “I thought: I’ll just ask him what’s going on. If he’s the rightful owner, no big deal. He’ll probably be happy someone was keeping an eye on his stuff.”

Broken English

It turned out he wasn’t the rightful owner. “He was taken aback a bit when I stopped him, and answered me in broken English – which was strange in itself, since students’ English tends to be quite good. When I asked him whether it was his laptop, he said: ‘No, it belongs to a friend.’” At which point Enzo had a brainwave. “I asked him his friend’s name. If he offered a man’s name I would know for sure something was off.”

“Kevin”, the young man told Enzo. “This led to a discussion and the guy eventually handed me the laptop and ducked into the University Library. I went to the library desk and a staff member warned security. The moment the guards arrived he walked out of the library.”

Enzo also exited the library with the guards, and for a moment, they couldn’t locate him. “But then I saw someone pulling up his hoodie and I recognised him. We overtook him and started asking questions. He told the guards that he was German, but the ID he showed them on his phone was Romanian. We started walking back to the Library when all of a sudden he made a run for it.”

Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

Security guard with marathon experience

To no avail. The thief was chased across campus, but “one of the guards was an enthusiastic marathon runner who had no trouble keeping up – even though the guy was keeping up a stiff pace. In the end, they nabbed him – he was knackered – and handed him over to the police.” Meanwhile, the rightful owner of the laptop was waiting tearfully at the library desk: she had only had her new MacBook Pro for a month or so. “I got a big hug when I handed it back to her.”

The police are still in the midst of their investigation. The suspect, a 28-year-old man of no fixed abode, is still being detained. “We’ve handed him over to the Immigration and Naturalisation Service. He’s currently facing a deportation procedure, since he can’t present any valid documents,” says a police spokesperson. The man’s nationality is still undetermined.

Wave of thefts

This is hardly the first attempted theft on campus in recent months. In the same week, a man approached medical student Frédérique (23) with a map – supposedly to ask directions. “He laid his map over my phone; I didn’t recognise the street plan and he was talking about an address in Arnhem. It felt very fishy and I quickly grabbed my phone.” The man wandered off again, visibly annoyed.

This autumn, there were at least twelve thefts on campus, all more or less following the same pattern. At the time, the university’s Safety & Security Adviser Jelle Jager announced that they were being committed by a gang that targeted multiple educational institutions. The thieves generally focussed on students’ laptops and telephones and used diversions like they did in Frédérique’s case.