Craigslist-Savvy Mom Turns Tables on Crook

Berkeley woman avenges theft of handicapped daughter's computer

By Janette Williams
|  Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010  |  Updated 1:21 PM PDT
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dynavoxtech.com

A Berkeley mother used Craiglist to find daughter's stolen Dynavox, a device used by the mentally disabled.

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Eleven-year-old Hedy Mulligan has worked with teachers and therapists for years, learning how to communicate with a special computer designed for children with rare disabilities. Born with a chromosome disorder that left her mentally disabled, the Berkeley girl touches words and symbols on the touchscreen device to communicate with friends and family.

But after Thanksgiving, as Hedy's mom, Patty, loaded up their car outside her brother's house, she accidentally left  the $10,000 machine on the curb. When they returned to look for it, it was gone.

"It was devastating," Patty Mulligan told the San Jose Mercury-News. "It's a piece of equipment that is so important to Hedy."

Mulligan didn't panic. Instead, she turned into an amateur detective, determined to get back the computer. Since her insurance company, which bought the machine, refused to pay for another, she posted signs all over her brother's San Jose neighborhood.

Eventually, she turned to Craigslist -- and hit the jackpot. Somebody was selling a DynaVox on the classifieds site for $3,500 -- about a third the normal price

Mulligan decided to meet up with the seller at the Capitol Flea Market, but she didn’t go alone. She brought police along for the sting. That’s where police say James Durr had a Dynavox with the exact same serial number.

Durr was arrested on unrelated outstanding warrants for possession of stolen property. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is considering felony charges for misappropriation of lost or stolen goods.

Mulligan says the best part was Hedy’s ecstatic reaction when they were able to find the device. 

And now, thanks to her mom, she once again has the means of expressing her joy.

"We were in disbelief that we had actually recovered it," Mulligan told the Mercury-News. "It just seemed like it was gone."

Janette Williams' night job involves cocktails.

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