Ed Peterson of Madison lives an ascetic lifestyle, with few possessions. But he's nonetheless traumatized by what's transpired.
"I've been violated," he says. "Everything that was personal and intimate to me was gone through by a total stranger." And some of it may be gone for good.
As other media have reported based on police accounts, Peterson left his studio apartment at 121 S. Hancock St. on Friday, Feb. 20, around 10 a.m., returning several hours later.
Peterson, 36, was struck by the whiteness of his walls, shorn of their posters. There was a plunger on the stove, and the dishwasher was running. His cabinets were open and mostly bare. The living space was empty.
"I'm like, what the hell?" says Peterson. He wondered if he was in the wrong apartment, then realized this wasn't logical: "I used my key. My key opens my apartment."
Peterson immediately went to the cabinet where he kept a locked Brinks security box. Gone. He says it contained about $300 in cash, his cell phone, credit cards, unused checks, birth certificate, Social Security card, tax records and more.
Also gone: His collection of about 100 books on astrology and numerology, most new, some rare, worth about $4,000. And about 150 CDs and 10 DVDS. And his clothes and sleeping bags. And a small TV.
Lacking a cell phone, Peterson walked to the nearby office of his property manager, Hart Rentals. The company owns six downtown rental properties, with an assessed value of $3.3 million. He asked the person working there if he could use the phone to call police.
"No," she replied, according to Peterson. He says she also refused to make the call for him.
Returning to his apartment, Peterson noticed big black garbage bags in the trash bin out back. He soon found they contained his clothes and other belongings, but not the locked box, books, CDs or TV.
Peterson dragged the bags back to his apartment, then began walking to the police station, encountering an officer on the way. Police investigated, but Peterson still didn't know what happened when he left for his night job as a housekeeper at Meriter. When he got back around 11 p.m., he found the TV had been returned and police had left him a note, directing him to call the management company.
The next day, Peterson spoke by borrowed phone with Rick Eckes, who told him what happened. A maintenance man asked to clean out an apartment had gone to the right apartment - 2C - but the wrong address. The worker told police he tossed all of the books and CDs, speculating that others may have taken these from the trash bin. He "did not remember [removing the Brinks box] but did not rule out that he could have," says the police report.
Peterson is dumbfounded: "It's legal to walk into an apartment and throw out boxes of books?"
Eckes, contacted by Isthmus, refused to discuss the matter, claiming, "I don't have enough information to really comment on it." He referred a reporter to his partner, Bill Hart, who did not return a phone message.
Peterson says Eckes offered him $1,000 for his trouble. He's hired an attorney, David Sparer, who says his client is entitled to double damages and attorneys fees for violations of the state administrative code - for starters. There may also be triple damages for other violations, as well as punitive damages.
"This is a horrible and serious violation of a tenant's rights, and the law provides for serious consequences," says Sparer. Last week he sent a letter to Hart Rentals, saying his client would pay no further rent and will be seeking recompense.
Sparer, in his opening paragraph, asked the company to direct all communications through him. Eckes ignored this, leaving a message with Peterson, asking to talk. Probably just a misunderstanding.
Footnote: Obviously, with 100 books on the subject, Ed Peterson knows a thing or two about metaphysics, his term for astrology, numerology and Tarot. So what was in the cards for him on the day he got cleaned out?
He says it happened during his 16 period, a time to expect "surprises and shocks." And the day and time pointed to "misunderstanding," "no fun," "heavy losses" and "living nightmare."