The Wild Deuce

If you’re a parent of a young child, you know the most important rule about any trip — be it a week-long vacation or a five-minute errand — is to make sure your kid uses the bathroom before you leave the house. Even though they’ll probably have to go again ten minutes later (while you’re stuck in traffic or waiting in the checkout line, with your luck), at least there’s a chance they’ll make it without needed to use the bathroom, right? It’s basic math and biology: if you go before you go, you may not have to until you get back home.

And it’s a good habit to get into regardless. It may even keep you out of jail.

Thousand Oaks, California, is a city in Ventura County, part of the larger Los Angeles metro area. The city itself is home to about 125,000 people, and it’s generally considered a rather affluent place to live; according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s database, the median household income in Thousand Oaks was $109,378 in 2019. And it’s probably safe to assume that if you were a homeowner in 2016, you were probably similarly well-off. This is partially probably why, on October 7th of that year, a home in Thousand Oaks was burgled.

Typically, in the United States, burglaries go unsolved; according to the FBI, only 13.5% of all burglaries in 2017 were “cleared by arrest or exceptional means.” A break-in in Thousand Oaks, therefore, isn’t likely to end up in an arrest. Unless the crime appears to be part of a wider crime spree, it simply doesn’t make sense to deploy a full-scale CSI lab to figure out who smashed in a window and took some electronics and/or jewelry or the like. The exception is when the suspect leaves behind some obvious evidence, but that’s rare — the whole point of a burglary is to take stuff with you, not leave anything behind.

Unfortunately for one alleged criminal, he didn’t remember the first rule about leaving the house — go to the bathroom so you don’t have to while out. And we know he didn’t follow that rule because he broke one at least one of the two rules about using the bathroom itself. The first, of course, is to wash your hands afterward. But the other one (which should happen before the handwashing) is to flush. While we’re not sure if the burglar washed after using the toilet, we are sure he violated the latter. Because when police arrived at the crime scene that day, they discovered a poop, unflushed, floating in one of the toilet bowls.

While gross, the fecal leave-behinds constituted evidence. According to the Ventura County Star, the police collected a sample and “submitted the evidence to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Services Bureau for processing.”  A few months later (and no, I don’t know why it took so long), the authorities found a match: the DNA in the feces was that of a 42-year-old man named Andrew David Jensen, who, for some unreported reason, was already listed in a criminal database somewhere. 

Jensen was arrested and charged with burglary; his bail was set at either $70,000 or $180,000 (reports vary). It’s unclear if he was ever convicted, though; as of this writing, he isn’t listed in the California inmate locator database. Regardless, next time, he’ll probably remember to flush.

Bonus fact: In the course of human history, we’ve sent six missions to the moon. And each of those missions left some stuff behind. In 2012, the Atlantic published an incomplete list of the stuffed left there, and you’ll note that the list includes “96 bags of urine, feces, and vomit.” While there are no current plans to retrieve those bags, that may change. As Vox reports, “with the Apollo 11 moon landing, we took microbial life on Earth to the most extreme environment it has ever been in. Which means the human feces — along with bags of urine, food waste, vomit, and other waste in the bags, which also might contain microbial life — on the moon represents a natural, though unintended, experiment.” As a result, “scientists want to go back, and answer a question that has profound implications for our future explorations of Mars: Is anything alive in them?” As of this writing, though, there are no plans to go back to the moon to collect bags of poop.

From the Archives: Yes, You Can Get a DNA Match for the Dog Poop You Just Stepped In: Another application on the principle in today’s main story.