Kleptomania is generally defined as an overwhelming urge to steal things someone does not need. It is relatively rare: the Cleveland Clinic estimates that it affects between 0.3% and 0.6% of the population of the USA. That same source states that people with kleptomania account for only 4% to 5% of shoplifters.
One clear example of the condition occurred in late 1946, when Eugene Kenneth Ward, a graduate of a high school in Burlingame, was arrested and confessed to a dozen burglaries in our county. However, the police believe the number was closer to twenty.
The 23-year-old was a Navy vet working as a logger at the time of his arrest. He apparently didn’t need the money, as a newspaper described him as coming from “a prominent San Francisco family.”
Initially, Ward just stole money and left no clues, but, as another newspaper claimed, he became “more ambitious and started taking other articles and converting them into cash in pawnshops.”
A Santa Rosa newspaper described his initial method of grabbing money: he “cut or removed the (window) screen, raised the window and grasped the bedspread, dragging it and items lying on the bed to within his reach.” In one instance, he used a fishing pole to steal a purse (one account claimed it was a fur coat).
He was arrested outside the Bagni Cafe at 7335 Mission Street in Daly City. On him, he had a stolen razor, a revolver (described as too rusty to fire), and some stolen meat. He quickly confessed to the Bagni robbery and stated he had committed burglaries in San Bruno, Colma, and South San Francisco. He was primarily caught, a newspaper stated, because he “bungled the meat sale and left tell-tale clues in the sale of numerous articles.” San Bruno authorities had additional evidence when a typewriter was sold after being reported stolen.
His robberies did not necessarily net great amounts of money. In one San Bruno burglary, he entered a house through an upstairs window (aided by a ladder) while the occupants played cards downstairs. This burglary resulted in just $20. He obviously wasn’t in it just for the money.
The Times reported a year after his arrest that “…young Ward was convicted of a series of burglaries and placed on five years probation on condition he serve a year in jail. On May 1, 1947, his sentence was modified to time served and he was released.”
He returned to work quickly, soon being arrested for burglary in Los Angles, where he confessed to robberies in San Francisco and Santa Ana.
Frustratingly, I could not find further media information on Ward, so I don’t know if his Los Angeles area activity resulted in further jail time or whether he received some much-needed psychological help. But his criminal history in San Mateo County, described by one newspaper as a “month-long orgy of burglaries,” remains a landmark in our criminal history.