by M. Roberts
Most people have something to hide regardless if the object is valuable, sensitive, dangerous, illegal, or subject to confiscation. Storing objects in a safe under key or combination lock can be a good security measure, but not everyone wants a large, heavy, and expensive safe and a small safe bolted to the floor can only contain a limited number of items.
A safe of any size also commands attention from thieves and police as something which is virtually guaranteed to hold something special. Depending on size and weight, thieves sometimes take the entire safe without knowing what is inside.
If the homeowner is present then a burglar with a gun or police with a warrant can persuade them to open the safe immediately. Again, a safe can provide a high level of security, but sometimes it can also make sense to hide things in other locations around the home.
Most people also tend to hide things in places which can be found quite easily by burglars and police. For example, objects which have been hidden in a typical home can usually be found in a drawer or closet located in the master bedroom.
Burglars and police know this to be true so they often begin their search in that part of the house. Regardless if the home invader is a burglar or police, the amount of time they can invest in a search is limited. To be productive home invaders tend to follow the same basic three-part rule when conducting a search: 1) Look for interesting items which are openly-displayed, 2) shift attention to the most interesting containers, and 3) inspect other containers which are likely to hold something interesting. If you haven’t guessed already, they are looking for interesting things.
When a home invader begins a search they typically notice openly-displayed things such as a rifle on a gun rack, a plasma television mounted on a wall, or a jewelry box on a chest of drawers. This process usually only takes a matter of seconds per room before a deeper search begins, but we can slow them down by having more interesting (yet unimportant) things on display.
Taken to an extreme we can create distractions for home invaders, for overwhelming them with a large number of interesting display items can cause them to single out only the most exceptionally interesting things to inspect.
It is quite possible they will overlook an interesting object because it lacks sparkle compared to all the other shiny things in the room. Another delaying tip is to secure some of those openly-displayed items with locked display cases. The more time they spend trying to access and investigate displayed items the less time they have to sort through our containers.
We can also create some diversions too. For example, hiding a gold coin inside a dull matchbook and leaving it on a coffee table will likely be overlooked because it is uninteresting and unlikely to contain anything special, but we can divert their attention away from it even more by placing a beer mug full of common coins right next to it.
In the next phase of the search, their attention turns to storage spaces and interesting containers. Because there are more containers to search they will prioritize and inspect the most interesting containers first such as a closet, drawers, briefcase, suitcase, gun case, ammunition box, and decorated boxes.
Each time the home invader accesses and inspects a storage space or container they will apply the three-part rule to prioritize their search. Regardless of how deep their search takes them, they continue to follow the same rule.
It can sometimes be wise to hide certain “give-away” objects in easy-to-find places. Humans tend to look harder when their search produces little results, but home invaders are apt to call off a search once they found enough interesting things.
We’d like them to leave with nothing, but sometimes (mostly in the case of thieves) it would be better to have them leave early with an armload of minor and insignificant objects than to risk a prolonged search which exposes the things we really don’t want them to find. Take care, however, not to give them cause to prolong a search. For example, having an empty handgun box in the closet will inspire them to continue looking for that handgun.
Eventually, the most interesting containers will have been searched and their focus will shift to less-obvious containers which still hold the promise of something interesting. Examples include mattresses, couch cushions, toilet tanks, and shoe boxes.
They will continue to disregard dull and boring containers which are unlikely to contain something of interest, such as a toothpaste box or bottle of shampoo. A home likely has hundreds if not thousands of uninteresting containers, everything from sugar packets to garment pockets, so these things will probably not be inspected very closely, if at all.
There is no perfect hiding place as everything can be found with enough search time, but time is something home invaders do not have in excess. With that in mind, our goals should be to disguise things so they appear to be uninteresting and/or hide things in the most uninteresting and unlikely places while hoping their search time runs out before certain objects are discovered.
As a home invader works his way through a house the pantry is one of the last places to be searched. They will search for the most interesting objects and containers first which could include storage tubs, but very few people will take the time to carefully inspect each and every can of food. There are simply too many of them, they are not interesting, and it is unlikely a sealed can of food contains anything but food inside of it.
We can take advantage of that reasoning by using a can to hide small objects such as gold, jewelry, cash, bullets, etc. First, shop for a can of solid food (e.g. refried beans, cranberry sauce) which meets your size specifications, but is not a brand or food product you would normally consume. After carefully removing the label from a can of food use it as a template to cut out an identical-sized piece of thin yet firm and flexible cardboard.
Next, place the can on the workspace so it can roll freely and cut it in half using a hacksaw (take care not to bend the can!). After discarding the contents and washing the two halves of the can, insert the piece of cardboard into one half of the can and cover it with the other half of the can. The cardstock is the same size as the label so it should fit almost perfectly inside the can to serve as an inner support wall for both can halves.
Tightly pack objects inside the can while taking care to match the original weight of the product, seal it with strong tape, and carefully glue the original label back on to the can. Place it near the back of the pantry along with dozens of other cans of food to hide it. Because it is sealed at top and bottom and doesn’t make noise when shaken it will look and feel just like any other can of food. Yet, the owner will be able to identify by sight which can contain his valuables.
Hiding things under the floorboards is somewhat common but few searchers have the time to thoroughly investigate that possibility. However, these places can be searched rapidly with metal detectors so it’s not a great idea for hiding firearms, ammunition, coins, and precious metals. Home invaders do not expect things will be hidden in messy or dangerous such as under aquarium rocks or behind an electrical outlet (turn the power off first!).
These places are commonly overlooked during a search because they do not appear interesting, are unlikely to contain anything interesting, and are not easy to access and inspect. With a bit of creativity, fake sewage pipes can also be installed in a basement which has screw caps that serve as access points. Even the most dedicated searcher will likely avoid messing with sewage pipes which could leak or spill stinky human waste everywhere.
A cramped attic filled with loose insulation is another good place as few have the desire or time to sift through all that nasty fiberglass material in a dark and dirty place which is likely full of spiders and mice. However, because attics are dusty, they may notice foot and hand prints so conceal your tracks carefully.
If long-term storage is desired without the need for periodic access then the open spaces behind internal walls can be used to hide large and small objects. Repairing damaged drywall does take some skill but few will ever find what has been hidden behind a finished wall. Scanning a wall with a metal detector is unreliable as metal pipes and electrical wires oftentimes exist behind walls.
Floor level cabinetry, Formica countertops, and virtually all windows and doors have trim, molding or wall guards which can be modified with hinges or strong magnets to become access panels for secret storage spaces. Stair steps can also serve a cover for an accessible hiding place, but take care to secure it in a way which doesn’t cause an accidental fall.
Most doors of the home are hollow so they could also offer some well-concealed hiding places with access points at the top or bottom of the door. Keep in mind accessing these empty space areas of the home requires a bit of destruction as well as construction which rely heavily on carpentry skills.
Shoddy workmanship will likely attract attention of a home invader to scrutinize something that is out-of-place so aim for perfection when tackling this kind of project.
Hollowed out furniture has been used to hide things for centuries, yet it’s not a very common practice today. A table leg doesn’t attract attention because nearly everyone has a few of them in their home. It’s difficult to determine if it’s hollow just by looking at it and most won’t expend the energy to do a lot of heavy lifting to inspect or access it (especially a pool table), so it can serve as a good hiding place.
Those who have a large library could consider hiding objects in a hollowed-out book as it takes time to inspect each one. However, this is a fairly common practice. What is not common is to expect to find a hollowed-out cavity inside a thick a stack of old home/garden magazines which have been tightly bound together with twine.
When an object is too close in our field of view then it often becomes difficult to see, which is the basic concept behind the idea of hiding something in plain sight. Suppose one desires to hide a map which marks the location of their buried caches. No one else knows about the map or the buried caches, but the discovery of the map could put your plans in jeopardy. After all, what else does a person do when they find a “treasure map” but go look for the treasure to find out what it is?
Rather than hide the map it could be used instead to construct a plain-looking lampshade which is visible to everyone. It will blend in quite well with a room décor theme which includes a globe and a picture of an old map. Someone could take the time to inspect the lamp itself, but they will likely overlook the obvious and set the lampshade aside when doing so. It simply isn’t interesting nor likely to contain something interesting.
This isn’t a topic which is discussed publicly very often because those who have great secret hiding places don’t want to reveal their locations. Even so, understanding a bit about the psychology and methodology involved can help us find or create some really good hiding places, plan distractions and diversions for home invaders, and even motivate them to stop a search sooner rather than later.