COOS BAY -- He was out of town when it happened. It was a neighbor who discovered Scott Forde's nightmare.

Sometime around June 13 a thief, or thieves, broke into his home and ransacked the place. They took just about everything that wasn't nailed down.

"Whoever came, went through the house drawer by drawer, emptying drawers many times," Forde said, as he sat and recounted his ordeal. "I don't even know all they took, because they just emptied drawers."

He didn't have insurance, but no amount of money could ever recoup all of what he lost.

A steel Halliburton suitcase and an antique 1931 Mills watermelon nickel slot machine are worth thousands of dollars, and he'd like to get them back. But, he says, his primary desire is to get back the last link he had to his mother.

After her death in 2011, he kept her ashes, with a lock of her hair, inside a green velvet bag on her old bed.

Upon getting the call from his neighbor, describing the state of the house in the 1200 block of Embarcadero Circle in Coos Bay, his mind started racing.

"I was just sick," Forde said. "I said, 'Would you look on top of mom's pillow?' Because the only thing I really cared about in the whole house is her ashes. He said they're not there.

"Why would they take mom's ashes? It was just a meanness."

He and police have their theories, but the investigation remains suspended for now. There was no sign of forced entry, and police believe whoever is responsible entered through a dog door.

Coos Bay police Sgt. Eric Schwenninger said that, while what was taken certainly makes this an unusual crime, break-ins are all too common.

"Break-ins can happen anywhere across the city, and we see them in all neighborhoods," he said.

Sometimes, he said, a burglary is a crime of opportunity, when people are away, other times it comes at the hands of someone with an intimate knowledge of the home.

"We hire people into our homes all the time, and you want to have some concept of who those people are," Schwenninger said.

There are several ways to do just that, he said.

"Make sure they are licensed and bonded, and have a good reputation or references. Oftentimes we, the public, don't do that and we end up having people come into our homes and we just don't know who they are or what their background is."

Whether the perpetrator is known or not, there are other steps you can take to make your place a tougher target.

If you are going to be away from home, make sure the mail is stopped, or picked up daily, and make sure garbage or newspapers don't accumulate in front of your home. Among the other things you can do is to put braces in your window frames, and add lighting and motion sensors around your home.

There are websites that can help, and local police are able to offer tips. They say if you knock off just one item a month, in no time, your home will be a hardened target.

Schwenninger said one particular type of break-in has been on the rise in recent years.

In those instances, the criminals approach homes under the pretext of offering to do work. While they are hoping to find no one home, they may also use the opportunity to get a good look inside. If no one is home, they simply walk around to the back, calling out that they are there for a job. When they are certain no one is home, they can kick-in a back door.

"One of our main prevention tips is to know your neighbors and know their routines. The secondary step is to call law enforcement (when something seems strange). Quite frankly, we are getting paid to answer those types of calls or concerns. We are happy to go out and inquire," Schwenninger said.

The sad reality, though, is that even if you do all of those things, someone may still break in. If that happens, there are things you can do to increase the odds of getting your property back.

Police say you should photograph, or take a video of, your valuables in their locations inside the home, and then create a list that includes descriptions and serial numbers. Then place the list and video, or pictures, in a safe deposit box or in another home.

Some things, though, are simply never replaceable. That is a lesson Scott Forde is hoping others can learn from his experience.

"The sense of violation is almost unbelievable. If there is anything that you really treasure, don't assume somebody is not going to come into your home."

Anyone with information about this crime is urged to contact Coos Bay police at 541-269-8911.

If someone has recovered his mother's ashes and wishes to return them, but doesn't want to contact police, they can bring them to The World, or be put in contact with Forde directly.

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