Property Sergeant Karl Stippich had learned, long ago, that too much knowledge only got you into trouble.
He was eighteen months from retirement and his goal was to keep his head down and dream of being retired.
He was still young enough to enjoy it and his missus had the whole thing planned. They bought a very cool old Airstream caravan at a police auction.
It had previously belonged to a nefarious character who moved drugs for a Melbourne gang.
This bloke and his missus drove up and down the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney at least twice a week. The gang paid him five thousand dollars per trip, and that was one trip in each direction. Drugs went up and cash came down. Twenty thousand dollars per week. Even when you took petrol, tyres and wear and tear into account, that was a good weekly wage.
They had been at it for about eighteen months when an officer, who was stationed in Albury, wondered why he kept seeing the same vintage Airstream caravan, week in and week out.
The nefarious character and his wife had spent many happy days in Albury in their youth, so they rather foolishly stopped there every time they made the trip north.
The constable didn’t mention it immediately, but after he saw them a few more times he told his sergeant.
The Police waited for the polished aluminium caravan to arrive one more time and nabbed the older couple and several kilograms of cannabis.
The arresting officers were from the Drug Squad and the eagle-eyed traffic constable didn’t receive any credit.
His sergeant thought this was grossly unfair and wrote to the Commissioner on his behalf.
The young constable’s commendation arrived ten days after he drowned trying to save two teenage girls who had unwisely gone swimming in the flood-swollen Murray River.
He lingered for more than a day before succumbing.
His wife accepted the award on his behalf. She spoke to reporters about his courage and his desire to help others, but secretly she wished he had been a bit selfish and had waited for help to arrive instead of diving in and leaving her alone. In time, she would have a bravery award to add to the memories of her brave, young husband.
The Drug Squad were very pleased with their haul and it made for good television. The gleaming silver vintage caravan and a large pile of ‘grass’. The old couple did not bother to hide the loot, they simply loaded it into their caravan and threw a blanket or two over the pile.
No one ever asked to look inside the van.
The loot was carried ‘in plain sight’ so a comprehensive search of the vehicle seemed like a waste of time, at least, that was the opinion of the top brass and despite the protests of the detective in charge, the word came down from on high. “A waste of Police resources. Stick it into impound and get on with your next case.”
When Karl Stippich towed the van home from the auction his wife was very excited but she said that the inside had a strange smell. Karl just laughed and said the smell would go away.
Karl was a handy sort of bloke so he decided to service the van himself and save a bit more money.
Once he had jacked up the van to get the wheels off, he packed the wheel bearings, put the wheels back on and was about to let the jacks down when he decided to check under the floor. The body was aluminium, but the floor pan was probably steel — and steel can rust.
Considering its age there was very little rust, but there was a series of bolted-on compartments that most probably were not original spec’.
Karl tried undoing the bolts on one of the compartments and they came away easily. There were at least ten thousand dollars in that one and about the same in the others.
It didn’t make sense to Karl.
The detectives were sure that the couple simply loaded the drugs into the van and covered it and did the same with the cash.
So what was this money about?
Karl was no fool. He was going to give this a bit of thought before he did anything rash like handing it in.
In the coming weeks, restoration work carried out by officer Karl revealed several hidden compartments inside the van. When Karl ran out of hiding places he had amassed slightly more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Mrs Karl voted to keep the money.
“It’s probably their personal stash and they are not going to live long enough to get out of jail and come looking for us. And anyway, what are they going to do? Beat us to death with their Zimmer Frames?”
Mrs Karl was wide-eyed and full of plans for spending their bonanza.
Karl agreed and surmised that the couple probably thought that the police had found their stash of cash. He suggested that they wait until he retired, and if no one showed up asking about the van, they were probably in the clear.
They were right and they got to safely keep the money, but money strangely accrued can have a peculiar effect on those doing the accruing, and Karl and his missus didn’t relax until news eventually came that the old couple had died in prison.