There’s an old saying that goes: Hell hath no fury like a woman with a pilfered ukulele.  

Mark LaFlamme

It doesn’t go exactly like that, maybe, but as far as Jess Paquette is concerned, it ought to. 

A few weeks ago, Paquette came home from a 10-minute errand to find her bicycle and ukulele had been swiped from a porch. 

In broad daylight, it happened, and to get to the bike and ukulele, the thief had to venture down a driveway between two massive apartment houses in a busy section of Lewiston. 

“I was only gone 10 minutes!” Jess said. “I figured my things would be safe for that long.” 

Nope. Gone was Jess’ sweet ’57 Chevy-blue bicycle with its tie-dye pedals, Lego head valve covers and awesome little bell on the handlebars. 

Also gone was the ukulele Jess got at a pawn shop two years ago and which she typically kept stashed on the front of the bike. 

Jess was ripping mad. 

“I need that bike,” she said. “And I really liked the ukulele. People love it when I’m out there playing it. Well, I really only pretend to play, but I figure I look good doing it.” 

When you get right down to it, when those two cherished items were purloined from that porch, the thieves made a direct attack on Jess’ livelihood. 

Jess is a panhandler, you see, only she calls it busking. Most days, you can find Jess down at the corner of Main and Lisbon streets, strumming on the ukulele with her distinct-looking bike leaned up against a building. 

As buskers go, Jess is among the more popular in the Lewiston area. She’s charming and quirky and almost always friendly. People like her, and the money she collects on the corner keeps her clothed and fed. 

Only now her bike and uke were gone and Jess’ routine was in chaos, so she did what came naturally, and here is where all victims of stolen goods should start to pay attention. 

Fuming and determined to get her stuff back, Jess went on the offensive. She notified the police and pawnshops about the theft, sure, but those were only matters of routine. 

The way Jess saw it, the more eyes there were out trawling for her bike, the better. 

“I told everybody about it,” Jess said. “And I mean everybody who would listen. I told them what my bike looks like and asked them to look out for it.” 

She also posted photos on Facebook along with her personal brand of colorful thoughts on the matter. 

“Found out a high school friend passed away today,” she wrote on July 20, a day after the theft. “My bike and uke were stolen, got kissed by a random stranger last night and then today the sky is milky white from all of the fires out West and everything just feels strange … Since my bike got stolen, I’m seeing the color everywhere — on TV, cars, people’s clothes …” 

The more she posted, the more interested people got, and many of those people were complete strangers. 

A few days after the bike and uke were swiped, there was some news. 

“My neighbor spotted the bike over by 7-Eleven,” Jess reported on Facebook.  

Now she knew that her ’57 Chevy-blue was still in the neighborhood — we’re not talking about master criminals here — and so she and her growing posse went on the hunt. 

Jess was taking her coonhound Sweet Pea for walks around the neighborhood, checking in places like Sunnyside Park for her bike and for kids who fit the description of the boy who took it. 

Others were searching, too. Success in recovering her bike seemed so close, she could sniff it on the wind. 

“I’m like, it’s just a matter of time,” she said. “Every single day I thought, you know what? Maybe tomorrow I’ll get it back. Or maybe the day after that.” 

And wouldn’t you know it? One week and two days after the bike was taken, the thief — seriously, we’re not talking Mensa club members here — was “bold” enough to ride it back to 7-Eleven. 

A customer at the store spotted Jess’ bike lying on the ground outside and she alerted store employees. The employees jumped to action, calling police at once and warning the teen with the bike not to take it anywhere. 

There’s another old saying: It’s all over but the ukulele. 

Jess got her bike back, the cops had the thief responsible and a sense of Old West-style justice returned to the neighborhood. 

No ukulele, though. The accused thief had no idea where it was. The pawnshops hadn’t seen it, either. For Jess, it was a 50% win. 

“To tell you the truth,” she said, “I’m still mad about the ukulele.” 

Still, there are plenty of people out there who would be happy with a half win. All summer long, there has been a rash of bicycle thefts, and as long as we’re working with an Old West theme here, let’s consider this: People today feel about their bikes the way ranchers in the old days felt about their horses. 

Do you know how they used to treat horse thieves? 

Jess Paquette’s concept of posse building is probably the only way this spree of bike thefts gets conquered. It’s a concept of everybody looking out for everybody else. 

On July 25, a Lewiston man reported on Facebook that his roommate’s electric bike had been taken off a porch in another part of the city. The thieves in this case were so hellbent on getting that ride, they tore apart a porch post to get around the lock. 

Roughly three dozen people weighed in on that post, including one man who reported having THREE locked bicycles stolen over the summer. Another man chimed in that two bikes and a generator had been swiped in recent days in his neighborhood. 

That Facebook post picked up steam and the outrage was encouraging — good people detest thieves and will generally do anything in their power to bring them to justice, even if the injured party happens to be a stranger. 

In the Old West, enraged folks went door to door to assemble a posse in matters such as these. 

“Get your boys and come along, Hoss,” they would say to rancher after rancher. “There’s a horse thief afoot!” 

It’s weird how they were all named Hoss. 

These days, posse gathering is done mainly through Facebook post-sharing, which may not be as macho as the old way but it serves more or less the same purpose: The more eyes, hands and feet on the problem, the better, and if you happen to be the horse-stealin’, bike-filching, ukulele-pinching cad in question, sonny, you best get your affairs in order. 

And, you know. Avoid the sharp eyes at 7-Eleven if you know what’s good for you. 

When he’s not dispensing Old West-style bicycle justice, Mark LaFlamme is the crime reporter for the Sun Journal.

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