Det. Paul Danielson was assigned about 6,900 investigations during his 20 years on the Garden Grove Police force before retiring last year to work the front desk part-time.
But there is one that stands out. And not just because it got him a shout out from Jay Leno and Reader’s Digest.
It’s because it led to, Danielson says, the arrest of The World’s Dumbest Criminal.
It was about seven years ago.
Danielson got a report of a guy stealing a surveillance camera off a commercial building — wait for it — while staring directly into the lens as he unscrewed it, cigarette dangling from his lips.
“A guy stealing surveillance cameras is comical at the outset,” Danielson says.
But it got better.
Every time a car went by, the camera showed the thief hiding next to a sign that read: “You are being recorded.”
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Danielson had a winner.
By the time police got to the scene on the west end of the city, the thief was gone.
But Danielson knew it wouldn’t be hard to hook the press on this one and get the guy’s mugshot next to the “you are being recorded sign” out there on every TV screen in the Southland.
“I was doing tons of interviews,” Danielson says.
Within 24 hours, Danielson had the thief identified: Howard Shanholtzer.
Shanholtzer, it turned out, was on parole.
Danielson sent him messages through media interviews.
“I told him that he might as well just turn himself in. I’ll even give him four or five wallet sizes if he did.”
Then Shanholtzer outdid himself.
The white Mitsubishi pick-up truck he had been driving broke down.
“He knew we were looking for him and knew we would be looking for his white Mitsubishi pick-up truck, so he stole another vehicle. Unfortunately, the vehicle he stole was also a white Mitsubishi pick-up truck.”
Topping himself once again, Shanholtzer then took his license plate off his broken truck and put it on the stolen one.
“When you’re not bright it’s probably not good to apply your limited intelligence,” Danielson says.
By the time the thief was caught about a week after the crime, he was going away for stolen truck, drugs (in the stolen truck), grand theft — you name it. He was also famous. Jay Leno held up a newspaper story to make his few million viewers laugh.
A few months later, Danielson got a call from Reader’s Digest. They put the case in their 2008 World’s Dumbest Criminals of the year feature.
Shanholtzer went back to prison.
“He and I weren’t pals,” Danielson says, mostly because of the taunting messages he sent the thief through the media and in cell phone messages (he had his mobile number).
From behind bars, Shanholtzer mailed a cartoon drawing of Danielson to the Police Department.
It was a caricature of Danielson, drinking a can of Bud, with the caption: You better turn yourself in and save me from doing any legwork.
Danielson tacked it up in his cubicle.