Septa Transit Authority Major Coin Theft Case
And Bumper Beepers, 1970s
By Bill Mitchell, Seven-Day Detective, Director/Chief Investigator,
Mitchell Reports Investigations, LLC of Greenville, South Carolina.

Click Here To Review The Above Mark V And Mark I Bumper Beepers From The 1970s

This investigative assignment involved discovering and proving a major theft ring operation. The venue was Philadelphia during the early 70s. Several union employees were stealing large numbers of coins from various bus lines in the Septa System. The Security Director at the time, Robert King, a former FBI agent, hired my father, William F. Mitchell, Sr. His private Investigative agency was based out of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a suburb of metro Philadelphia. During the inception of the case, our intelligence pointed to three possible suspects, all company employees. One suspect in particular resided in Woodbury, New Jersey, located just across the Delaware River from the bus lines. He was considered the most likely suspect. Our client agreed that surveillance of this man was deemed necessary. We undertook a twenty four hour, seven day per week schedule.

We manned the investigation around the clock. The heists were unpredictable. Though we established a pattern of losses, all three shifts were reporting thefts. The suspects had stolen a pedestal key from the security office affording them access to any bus lines’ revenue during the routes.

Teams of two investigators monitored the key suspect from vantage points where he would mostly likely access Interstate Route 295, a connecting thoroughfare to the city of Philadelphia. We purchased two “state of the art” electronic bumper beeper systems for this job. This equipment would give us the “edge” we needed to solve the case. We employed the use of the Mark I and Mark IV bumper beeper units. After placing the beepers underneath the vehicles, they emitted an analog “beep.” The receivers deciphered their signals on three levels, Low, Medium, and High. The design of this system afforded the investigator with a signal that is first heard on High at a distance of approximately 3-5 miles. This first wave of “beeps” alerted our surveillance team that the subject was heading in our direction. We established a surveillance point at the interstate exchange and in a position where we could anticipate his approach. As the signal approached, the volume increased to give a clear and definite notification. We switched the signal to the remaining two levels and observed the suspect’s vehicle. We stepped into action and followed him into the city of Philadelphia.

The beeper system also provided a directional response. The controls were turned left or right when the subject’s vehicle was lost in traffic. If the signal strength was stronger on one side then the other, we knew he turned in that direction.

As we had hoped, the prime subject proceeded to a bus line where the thefts were prominent. He parked on the shoulder of a rail-lined street and waited. We set up surveillance with one vehicle behind him and one in front of his position, anticipating the arrival of an “electric powered” bus.

Within twenty minutes, the bus approached the suspect’s parked car. He proceeded to his trunk and removed a bus line coin holder. The subject entered the bus carrying an empty coin mech in his hands. We had visual observation of his action from directly behind the bus. Our strategy was to block any egress by the bus operator. Parking our lead vehicle on the bus rail lines prevented that option. Immediately after stopping the bus, I pulled the electric lines off the back of the bus, disabling its power and opening the doors. The company detective entered the bus with our other two agents. We placed both the driver and the prime suspect under arrest after they made the exchange of the empty coin mech on the route’s pedestal. We recovered the stolen company keys for these pedestals from the prime suspect.

At age 19, this investigation gave me my first “collar.” My father thought it humorous to have me parade the suspect through the union hall into a waiting Philadelphia Police cruiser. Jaws dropped as the hall filled with union employees witnessed me taking this thug to his justice. Anticipating a large crowd, we waited to perform this show for the close of the shift. Three employees in total were terminated and prosecuted. In total their heists amounted to just under $85,000.00.

The usefulness of these devices was tremendous and should go down in history as excellent tools of the trade. The Mark I and IV were used in many other assignments by our agency.

William F. Mitchell, Jr.
Seven-Day Detective tm
Mitchell Reports Investigations, LLC
2131 Woodruff Road Suite 2100 #299
Greenville, SC 29607