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Image: Brandon and Amber Herbert
Jackson County Sheriff's office
Brandon and Amber Herbert are the married criminal masterminds that attempted to masquerade their recent home burglary by posting a bogus invitation on Craigslist.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 4/4/2008 12:46:24 PM ET 2008-04-04T16:46:24

Cops finally busted the culprits behind yet another Craigslist-instigated ransacking of a Pacific Northwest domicile. And in some kind of completely unpredictable “Law & Order” plot twist, neither allegedly-guilty party turned out to be Craigslist itself. Who saw that coming?

Various and sundry lawmakers would have us believe that the free online advertising site is the root of all humanity’s ills. From pimping prostitutes to failing to police poor grammar, it seems there is no evil of which Craigslist isn’t capable … or at least won’t get blamed for.

And yet, as with this most recent offense, Craigslist totally didn’t do it! The perps are, in fact, Brandon and Amber Herbert, married masterminds who attempted to masquerade their recent home burglary by posting a bogus “come get all my crap — FREE!”  invitation on the oft-demonized online community.

According to news reports, here’s how it went down: Last Saturday, while independent contractor Robert Salisbury was out of town on a job, he received a call from a woman about the “abandoned” horse mentioned in his Craigslist ad. The ad, featuring Salisbury’s address, stated that the homeowner had to leave his Jacksonville, Ore., home in a hurry and invited all comers to alleviate him of his worldly possessions, filly and all.

The equine-loving Samaritan deduced from the mare's good health that neither the horse, nor anything else on the property, were really up for grabs, and wanted to give Salisbury the heads up.

Salisbury, who didn’t place the ad, arrived home to find a horde of what one can only assume were willfully ignorant jackasses totally taking his stuff. He even stopped a truck filled to the brim with his work ladders, lawn equipment and whatnot. Citing the Craigslist ad, the truck-driving jerks refused to relinquish their plunder.

Same went for the 30-odd losers looting Salisbury’s home and garage. 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 told The Associated Press. (Remember kids, nobody ever lies on the Internet!)

If this story sounds eerily familiar, it’s not because you saw something similar unfold on any “CSI” or “Law & Order” iteration — at least not yet. A little more than a year earlier and one state away, Laurie Raye found her Tacoma, Wash., home raided via Craigslist invite. Furniture, appliances, everything that wasn’t trashed was taken — even the kitchen sink.

"Moving out ... House being demolished. Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits," read the Craiglist ad eventually traced back to Raye’s vengeful (adult) niece, Nichole Blackwell. It seems Raye recently booted her sister (Blackwell’s mom) from the home, and Blackwell chose to engage the greed of the masses to wreak her revenge.

One year later, Salisbury’s déjà vu victimization was enough for a Washington news agency to query via headline, “Who’s policing Craigslist?” The answer: Nobody, at least not officially. Nor should Craigslist be policed — not actively anyway. It’s a portal, not a perpetrator, though that doesn’t stop some politicians.

Right around the time of the Salisbury sacking, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal got all up in Craigslist’s business, informing the company’s lawyer that “I am astonished and appalled by Craigslist's refusal to recognize the reality of prostitution on its Web site — despite advertisements containing graphic photographs and hourly rates, and widespread public reports of prostitutes using the site.”

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As TechDirt recalls in the post, “Craigslist Blamed Yet Again For Something It Didn't Do,” Atlanta’s mayor lobbed similar – albeit somewhat incoherent – charges at Craigslist last summer with no actual proof, printed or otherwise. As one snarky TechDirt commenter, advises, “Not only should we shut down Craigslist list as a tool for prostitutes, but we should close all the streets in New York as well.”

(Just as an aside, and in no way meaning to rain on “Bob’s” quip, NYC residents might take this time to point out that as this is no longer the “Taxi Driver” ’70s and that shutting down the outer edges of Gansevoort in the Meat Packing District is probably all that’s needed to accomplish his suggestion. Also, as the whole nation now knows, thanks to a certain former governor, New Yorkers don’t need Craigslist to procure paid action online.)

Of course, Craigslist-posting hookers is a whole other episode of “Oprah.” But the point is, as in corporeal life, people will always find an in to morally unsavory antics or just general all-around jerkdom. Anything that involves humans includes multiple avenues of bad behavior.

If you think Salisbury’s looters didn’t have some inkling the Craigslist ad was fake and/or that they were doing something wrong, you, my friend, are woefully mistaken. I should probably also point out that the glass is half empty. Also, there is no tooth fairy.

On the less dim side, these things often have a way of working themselves out.

“Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for committing crime, since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves that law enforcement officers will follow," said Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best told Seattle's King 5 News. As the New York Timespoints out, Craigslist may serve as a better career advancer for cops than criminals.

Case in point: The jokester who recently offered a real live baby (which, incidentally, wasn’t his) for sale on Craigslist (for $1000) was totally busted. (Craigslist immediately took down the ad and contacted the police.) What’s more, cops charged Laurie Raye’s house-trashing niece with second-degree burglary, malicious mischief and criminal impersonation.

Meanwhile, it took less than a week for the combined effort of Craigslist and Johnny Law to track down Mr. and Mrs. Herbert, the couple behind Salisbury’s ransacking. Officers point out that if you are one of the losers hanging on to Salisbury’s loot, you too are ripe for prosecution.

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