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September 11, 2017

WATCH: Car thief makes off with vehicle, the family dog

There's a $1,000 reward for Charlie's safe return

Crime Pets
Missing Dog Marielle Halper/Courtesy

Charlie, a 12-year-old Bijon/Maltese mix, has been missing since Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 when a thief took the car he was riding in from a Center City Philadelphia garage.

Marielle Halper set her iPhone’s alarm clock to wake her up at 9 a.m. Saturday, and wake up she did.

What she didn’t yet know was that her weekend was about to get sidetracked by two missed calls and a voicemail from numbers she didn’t recognize.

When her iPhone transcribed the waiting voicemail, it was the front desk letting her know police were at her building. Before she could call back, she heard pounding on the front door.

“I opened the door and a cop was there. He was asking ‘Are you Marielle? Your dad’s car has been stolen,'” the Temple University student recounted Monday morning. “I thought, 'That sucks. I’ll try to help out as best I can.'

“Then he hit me with this: ‘Your dog was in the car.’ Oh man, this is so bad, so serious. In pajamas and flip flops, I followed him out the door and headed over to my dad’s building.”

What ensued was a two-day mission to recover Charlie, the white Bichon/Maltese mix that’s been part of her family for the past 12 years.

Here's what Marielle said happened: About 45 minutes before police arrived at her door, her father Larry was driving Charlie out of the garage at 1919 Market St. in Center City. They were on the way to doggie day care.

NoneCourtesy/Marielle Halper

Marielle Halper and Charlie.

When he was pulling out of the garage on the 20th Street side just north of Market, he noticed one of the exit barriers was broken. So, he ran over to the attendant’s office to let them know.

As he left the car unattended, somebody hopped in and drove off in the 2010 Buick Lacrosse (license plate: JWC 6958).

“This all happened within 30 seconds,” Marielle said. “He literally got back a second later and saw the car speeding down the street.”

Since her father’s iPhone was in the car, they tried to utilize the “Find My iPhone” function in the hope of tracking the vehicle down. 

After a delay to charge the iPad on scene, they got a ping in the area of North Broad and Grange streets in Olney. Before long, though, her dad's phone was turned off.

With that information, she went to the 35th Police District (where pings had emanated) and later filed a report in the 9th District, where the car was stolen.

“I needed to go look, so I drove around North Philly for hours to places I thought he might be, based on that location ‘ping,’” she said.

They were able to get surveillance footage of the alleged car thief, but the search so far hasn't brought about Charlie’s safe return.


Suffice it to say, it hasn't been an easy pair of days

“My dad’s devastated. He walks Charlie to Rittenhouse Square five times a day," she said, noting that "Charlie lived with him and his wife, who just passed away in November."

“Yeah, he made a mistake for 30 seconds, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have done that," she continued. “If he left the house 30 seconds earlier or later, or if the (thief) got the truck (he was seen on video trying to steal), this wouldn’t have happened. It’s crazy how the timing worked out.”

NoneTeam Charlie/Facebook

A poster offering a reward for information leading to Charlie's safe return.

She’s since spread word on social media, contact local press outlets and gotten in touch with the Team Louie Animal Rescue, which has helped her work up flyers and devise strategies to help get Charlie back home.

“When she contacted us, we gave her a rundown on things to do,” said Missy Morrissey of Team Louie. “When this happens, you don’t know where to put flyers up. If the person was stealing a car to commit a crime. Where to go if they’re going to sell (the dog) for drugs. Where you would drop him out of the car if you’re driving to North Philly. He’s not going to post (a dog for sale) on Craigslist.”

Between Saturday and Monday mornings, Marielle said she’s received a couple calls about the case, but none that brought Charlie back home. 

Still, she’s holding out hope for a reunion.

“I’m going to get him back. I think he’s still alive. Either the guy kept him, sold to him to someone else or left him on the side of the road somewhere,” she said. “I don’t think he killed Charlie.

"I don't even care about finding the car. I just want my dog back."

Anyone with information about Charlie’s whereabouts is asked to call 610-212-6748. There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to his safe return.