RIVER FALLS -- Yesterday, an area man's life forever changed when he caught a would-be thief attempting to break into his neighbors' apartment. The man's amateur sleuthing and gutsy actions have his neighbors christening him a neighborhood hero.
Evan Cass, 34, was reading a comic book Friday afternoon in his Town of River Falls apartment when he heard his neighbors' dogs barking. "It was 4:30. I looked outside and saw that [neighbors] Dustin and Chelsea weren't home. It was go time -- I grabbed my notepad, a pencil and my camera, and headed outside. It was the moment I'd been waiting for."
"Go time" was a month in the making. Cass, who lives upstairs in the eight-apartment complex located on 920th Street, had been monitoring suspicious activity at the apartment below his own for weeks. "Every once in a while, when my neighbors weren't home, their dogs would go crazy. And just like that -- they'd stop. Something was up." Last week, after being awakened from yet another nap, he decided to take the law into his own hands. Next to his gliding rocking chair, Cass placed a notepad, a pencil and a digital camera at-the-ready. The same notepad, pencil and camera he was clutching in that fateful moment.
When Cass looked down from his balcony at Dustin and Chelsea's doorway, he witnessed an adult male trying to jimmy the door with a credit card. "It was green." In addition to the card's color, Cass also recognized the culprit, but needed photographic evidence. So Cass daringly leaned over the balcony railing with his camera and took a picture. What he saw in the picture did not surprise him. "He's a bum. A mooch. He doesn't even put his shoes on properly. So when I saw that first picture, I knew I had my man -- James." The picture shows James' feet and trademark shoe-wearing style.
The 54 year-old James, a creepy hypochondriac who lives in the apartment building's basement, tried befriending Cass in August 2010 when Cass first moved to the 920th Street address. Cass did not reciprocate. "I didn't like him. I had no desire to get to know him better. He made my 'spider sense' tingle, if you know what I mean. I was right." Unfortunately, the photo was not conclusive; it did not display James' face. Fortunately, James continued to try to break in for the next two hours. "It was unbelievable. He'd leave, then he'd come back. He kept trying and I kept taking pictures." Cass eventually got the conclusive photos he was hoping for from his precarious position overhead.
But it was not easy. Events took a dangerous turn when James tried to strong-arm his way through the door with a four-foot crowbar. Asked if he was scared, Cass said: "I'm a lover, not a fighter. That said, I was prepared to kick someone down a flight of stairs if I had to." James made his last failed break-in attempt at 6 PM.
Dustin and Chelsea returned home at 9 PM. Cass promptly paid them a neighborly visit to share with them the criminal timeline that he had recorded in his notepad and the incriminating photographs on his camera. "They were friendly with James," said Cass, "they were the real victims. I wanted them to be the ones to decide what we should do with James. It was the fair and right thing to do." Cass's neighbors ended up called the landlord, Harmon Properties.
"It's a relief," said Dustin. "It answers a lot of questions. We're glad to have a neighbor like him [Cass]. He was all, like, Mission Impossible hanging off that balcony taking pictures."
"Or like Spider-Man in that movie," said Chelsea, "where he hangs upside down and kisses that girl."
"It was awesome. We're going to Target as soon as possible. We want a new lock."
"And I need to replace a month's worth of stolen underwear."
Cass was asked to reflect on recent events in the context of his almost 35 years of existence. What did it all mean to him? He was quiet for a solid minute, then said: "When I was a kid, I was a big fan of [the cartoon] A Pup Named Scooby-Doo and [the children's book series] Encyclopedia Brown. I used to wear Superman Underoos too. So, yeah, I guess I was preparing my whole life for this."
Cass was also asked about his history as a costumed avenger. Did he see himself donning the cape and cowl again in line with the real-life superhero fad sweeping the globe? "It is true that I used to wear a costume. But that was for a public access TV show a lifetime ago. My hometown, Wausau, has its own superhero -- The Boss -- a special-needs kid who patrols the neighborhood by the airport on his bike. But 'real life' superheroes are freaks. I have a reputation to uphold."
Chelsea's comment about Spider-Man was mentioned to Cass. He laughed. "Spider-Man, huh? Well, he was a photographer. And I wouldn't say 'no' if a pretty girl wanted to kiss me. But, nah -- I'm just a guy who caught one of my neighbors trying to break into my other neighbors' apartment. The only reward that I can ask for is that people remember to lock their doors and that justice is served."
Harmon Properties "served" James an eviction notice early this morning.
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CORRECTION, 9 May 2011: Victimized neighbor Dustin was misidentified as Kevin. The online version has been changed. AMERICAN NARADA regrets the error.