Philmore the Guitar Thief
As a journalist my career is fed by oversharers, without people telling me their stories I’d have a lot less to write about. Sure, I can get into plenty of trouble on my own, but no amount of misadventure could ever match the collective tales of the people I meet on the road. Shortly after my visit to LightBox Interactive, I came across one such oversharer who gave me the story of his incarceration and subsequent thrill seeking over his love of music.
There are a lot of bars in Austin with live music, it’s kind of a staple of the town. Groomed on great live performers like Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, there’s a great deal of respect for the act of playing for an audience. It was one such performance that pulled me into The Dizzy Rooster as I passed by a little thirsty and wanting to find some local action.
Saddling up to the bar, I was quickly joined by a young guy named Philmore who shared with me his fondness of great guitarists, most of all Jack White. Being a fellow Jack White fan, we bounced back and forth between praise of his early work, his ensemble albums, and his latest solo release. It was then that Philmore explained to me he’d actually gone to jail over his affinity for music and gave me a detailed explanation of how he’d broken into a man’s house just to steal some very nice guitars and how his love of playing them eventually led to his arrest.
At the time, Philmore worked for AT&T going door-to-door doing installation sales. The gig paid well enough for him, but like most commission based businesses cheques could sometimes take a while to arrive leaving him with empty pockets for a good stretch of time. For someone who lived at home, this shouldn’t have been a problem, but Philmore had never been good at managing his funds and would be left without cash for good periods of time – something the young 19 year old dreaded.
One day during his route, he came across the home of an older gentleman who repeatedly told him how his work kept him so busy that it was a rarity to be caught at home. The two struck up a conversation, and when Philmore’s love of music came up, the man took great pride in inviting him in to look at his beautiful guitar collection. Touring him through the catalogue of instruments, it was hard for Philmore not to do the mental math and add up that the collection must be worth a small fortune. If Philmore hadn’t been a classic rock fan, he likely wouldn’t have known what the pieces were worth, but given that he was, lights started flickering upstairs and he resolved to pinch the guitars and make a good buck in the process.
For the next few weeks Philmore tailed the old guitarist. He’d stake out his house for days on end, learning the exact times he’d leave and return each day from work. He even went to the effort of trailing him all the way to the office, timing exactly how long it would take for the old man to return should he somehow be alerted to his presence once the heist was in play. By the time Philmore was ready for the operation, he knew his victim’s schedule better than he knew his own and found the perfect opportunity to strike. On any given weekday the old man would take about a half-hour to get to work, spend a full day in the office and return late in the evening, giving Philmore ample time to get in, grab the guitars, and get out.
On the day of his intended intrusion, Philmore tailed the old man one last time, following him halfway to work – to make sure there was no surprise change to his schedule – and headed back. Everything continued according to plan as he hopped the fence to his backyard and found the glass door that he’d use to break into the house.
Following an instructional video he’d seen on YouTube earlier, Philmore used duct tape to cover the edges of the glass door before applying a drill directly in the center of the window. This allowed him to break a large hole in the middle of the door while the tape kept the edges perfectly intact, bypassing any alarms that might have detected an intrusion. Once inside, he knew exactly where to go thanks to the old man’s generous tour and Philmore made a quick dash to the showcase, bypassing the pound of weed and other valuables that had lain strewn about the living room. He was careful not to leave any prints by using a pair of construction gloves and hastily grabbed the entire collection, save for the one guitar he knew meant most to the old man.
Like folks who enjoy reading before going to sleep, guitarists have a habit of keeping their favourite axe next to their bed to play a little before they hit the hay. Despite being a real fine instrument, Philmore left the guitar right where it belonged. As a fellow musician, he knew better than to break the old man’s heart and take his most prized posession. After all, he was a guitar thief, not some low-life criminal.
After loading the guitars into his trunk, Philmore sped off to the safety of his parents house where he stored all the axes in their attic and nobody was the wiser. The old man returned that evening to find his back door smashed and all of his instruments missing – a scene Philmore was glad not to whitness.
Months passed and Philmore got itchy fingers. He started playing one of his stolen guitars and lied to his parents about its origin. The risk of arousing suspicion could do nothing against the weight of his musical curiosity. He made up a story about buying the new guitar on a whim at an incredible bargain, a tale his family happily believed because they knew nothing about music and had no idea how much the instrument was worth.
Whether he’d stopped trying as hard at work because he knew he had the guitar money in his back pocket eventually, or simply because the economy dried up, Philmores installation cheques started drying up and he needed to make some money fast. Thinking that the old man had probably stopped looking for his collection, Philmore surmised to finally sell the guitars and get the money he needed fast. Using a prepaid GoPhone for all his communications, the guitars were sold one-by-one on Craigslist to folks more than eager to get top-grade instruments at such a bargain.
What Philmore didn’t expect was that one of his buyers would be honest enough to check the serial number on stolenguitarregistry.com rather than happily enjoying his ill-gotten goods quietly. Sure enough, having traced the GPS coordinates of the GoPhone to his parents house, a detective arrived a few weeks later looking for someone who knew anything about guitars. Knowing it had to have been their son, his parents turned him over to the authorities for questioning and poor Philmore was taken downtown to be grilled.
While the officers had enough information to finger him as a suspect, they needed a confession before they could arrest him; it was here that Philmore made his last and final mistake. Despite claiming ignorance to the whole affair, it was the threat that they knew more than he did that eventually made him crack and spin a fable about buying a used guitar on Craigslist and reselling it later that gave them all the contradictions they needed to convict him.
A few days later, Philmore’s dad called him out of the attic to help him move a tree from the front lawn. When Philmore got downstairs to help, two officers had arrived to cart him away to jail. Broken down and disappointed in himself, Philmore begged his father to help bail him out. Like any good father, he did, but not before letting him experience a few nights in the slammer as a good lesson learned.
When he got out, Philmore was placed on probation – he was still facing it when we talked – and was forbidden from leaving his hometown to keep him from skipping out on his duties. Something about the experience had stuck with him though, and it wasn’t the remorse I expected. Philmore explained that though it brought him nothing but trouble, the thrill and adrenaline of stealing those guitars was like nothing he’d ever experienced and he desperately wanted to feel it again.
He tried finding that thrill by pursuing his love of cars, driving upwards of 175 miles down the open road, but nothing could bring him close to the same exhilaration as the fear of being caught. Figuring that it came out of risking his future that gave him the electric feeling, he headed to the nearest army recruitment center and tried to apply for the marine corps. When asked why he wanted to join he told the officer, “I’m an adrenaline junkie and I want to know what it’s like being shot at.” Having just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, the recruiting officer kicked him right to the curb and left a permanent note on his record about his statement. When Philmore tried again at a different recruitment office, he was laughed out of the place and was told there’d be no way he could get into the military unless he was conscripted.
Now Philmore lives in a dangerous state; without a legal option to chase the charge he seeks, he’s put all his heart into car racing but fears there’s a good chance for a relapse if the opportunity presents itself. Adrenaline is a powerful drug, and an experience like Philmore’s can change a person for the worse. He’s stemmed the addiction so far, but each passing day presents a new chance for his morals to fail and there’s no telling exactly what will happen the next time opportunity knocks.