East of Elmgrove

After the Break-In

An East Sider picks up the pieces after her most treasured possessions are stolen

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The thief had wiped her dresser clean, and deep down she knew she had left her father’s dog tags there, but she wanted to be wrong. “I went a little crazy,” she says. There was a frantic search. A secret spot in the kitchen. The sugar bowl. Drawers. Then it hit her: the beloved keepsake from her dead father was gone, hustled away in a pillowcase in a break-in that rattled her so much she packed her bags and left the East Side.

Glenda Andes is living in an apartment in Narragansett until she figures out what to do next. Today, she is sitting in a Wayland Square cafe, telling the story of losing something so treasured that talking about it brings tears. “Besides feeling disbelief, I feel like I failed my dad,” she says. “I couldn’t hold on to that one thing.”

And what a thing it was: the two dog tags of Robert Andes, a drill sergeant in the U.S. Army who joined the military when he was a teenager. He served two tours: one overseas in Germany, the other at a training camp in Georgia for soldiers en route to the Korean War. They had a special father-daughter bond, and when he died on April 9, 2009 the dog tags went to her. “They represented his strength,” she says. “And they were real.”

Glenda grew up in New Mexico but left for college in San Francisco, earning several computer science degrees that took her to companies in Seattle and Palo Alto. Two years ago, she moved to the East Side for work and bought a house where she could settle with her Chihuahua mix, Ellie. She liked the subway tiles in the kitchen, and the neighbors were friendly.

Two weeks after she moved in, she flew out to California for her nephew’s wedding. When she returned, the side and back doors were kicked in. The thief had ransacked the house, taking her laptop and tablet and a necklace she had made to remember her father, with his signature etched on one of the charms. She was so frightened she couldn’t sleep at night. She installed an alarm, cameras, and floodlights.

After the break-in, she kept the dog tags with her, carrying them in her purse or wearing them around her neck. In late February, she came home after work, fed Ellie, and changed for the gym. She left the dog tags on the dresser; surely they’d be safe for an hour on a cold winter night. When she returned, the French doors were “busted through.” “I had a sick feeling,” she says. She went to her bedroom. The thief had removed a pillowcase from her bed and scooped up everything in sight.

After a frenzied search, she had to accept that the precious heirloom was gone. Other keepsakes were missing as well: her late mother’s diamond earrings; a silver box with relatives’ memorial cards; the tags of her beloved Australian shepherd, Freckles. Again, sleepless nights ensued – and sadness over losing something so meaningful to her and so meaningless to a stranger.

They’d talk on the phone every day, visit on holidays and take vacations with their loved ones together. If she felt lonely, wanted career advice or had a personal problem, she’d call Daddy. He noticed a lump on his jaw in May, 2007. Lung cancer. Doctors gave him 90 days to live. “He decided he would last longer,” says Glenda. She was by his side when he died nearly two years later.

Losing the dog tags was devastating. For days, she poked around the bushes by her house, hoping the thief had tossed them out. She searched for them on Craigslist, where thieves often try to sell stolen items. A week after the theft, she moved out. Her furniture is in storage. “I just didn’t feel safe,” she says. “This is such a beautiful neighborhood, but I can’t live here anymore. I had a car stolen in college, but this just feels so different. This is someone getting into your personal space.” She knows the dog tags are probably gone forever. Still, one can hope: Robert Andes. ER18324776. Blood type O.