Somewhere, those kids are snickering.
You can bet that they are--whoever they are--getting quite a kick out of this whole thing, their adolescent, pimply faces breaking into grins of vandalistic glee every time a news account of their devilish handiwork appears in print or on TV. God knows, they're high-fiving each other until their palms are red.
But Mike DiQuattro, well, if any part of his anatomy is red these days, it is most likely his face. And who can blame him? To hear him tell it, the poor chap was only doing his best for the neighborhood. Out there every night with Block Watch, on patrol pursuing the alleged pranksters with his walkie-talkie on full, just doing what any concerned, community-oriented citizen would do if the houses on his cul-de-sac--in particular, his very own abode--were BOMBARDED BY ROCKS!!
But now the cops are singing a different tune. Pesky kids looking for cheap thrills? No way, says the Chandler Police Department. After some 400 hours of surveillance under the official heading of Operation "Night Stoner" (interestingly, many of the attacks during the six-week period began as early as 3 p.m.; apparently, "Night Stoner" sounds better than "Early Dusk Stoner"), the police have come to the conclusion that it was DiQuattro himself heaving the rocks.
Mike DiQuattro, 32, self-employed mechanic, family man, respected neighbor, well-liked fella. Heaving rocks. At his own property and that of his neighbors. At night. Over a six-week period. Calling the police more than 50 times. For no sane reason that anyone can think of.
It goes like this:
Right around Christmastime, rocks began coming out of the sky, landing on houses, on parked cars, in front yards, in backyards, shattering the quiet in the residential side streets of this Chandler neighborhood. These rocks were river stones, heavy things the color and shape of buffed-steel brains, from "golf-size to half the size of a basketball," according to one neighbor.
Most of the damage ($8,200 out of $9,600 total reported) was done to the property of Mike DiQuattro, who was a leader in the local Block Watch, a group that Chandler police Sergeant Ed Upshaw describes as "one of the best I've ever seen." So good, apparently, that the cops had a rough time attempting to carry out any level of discreet investigation without the neighbors knowing they were in the 'hood. DiQuattro--who said that, as much as he wanted to talk to me, his lawyer has instructed him not to--wasn't happy with the progress that the police were making, and he let them know it.
But the force had canny crime-solving techniques up its collective blue sleeve that DiQuattro never reckoned with. Sergeant Matt Christensen takes up the story.
"When we first went out there, he was misleading us, saying these things were being flung across an alley, or two or three houses, and hitting residences. We went back and tested it, got a house that was set for demolition, and we made a rock thrower. We pretty much plagiarized the design for a water-balloon launcher," reveals the sergeant. "We just beefed it up. By the time we got to where we could throw the rock far enough, the damage it did on the house was incredible. It would go clean through an outside wall and embed itself into an inside wall."
Destruction on that level was far worse than what was happening during the alleged DiQuattro stonings; the police nixed the idea that the culprits were kids with a catapult. But the investigation didn't stop there.
"It was obvious the rocks weren't being thrown by any device," Christensen continues, "so we backtracked. Our officers pretty much range in sizes; we got guys that are real thin and we got a couple of guys that are beef eaters. We took those people out there and had 'em throw rocks as far as they could to see what kind of range they could get. So once we did that, we tagged it into an area where the rocks could be thrown from. Then, once you plotted them all out on a map, it was obvious that DiQuattro's house was dead center."
Sergeant Upshaw, boss of Operation Night Stoner, pares down his professional skepticism to a bare, instinctive essence: Large rocks thrown to great heights and over long distances wouldn't pitter-patter on roofs. They would smash the hell out of the houses.
"I kept some of the rocks in my car the first couple days 'cause I wanted to ask people, 'Do you believe this thing fell out of the sky over a telephone pole?' My ass!"
I must admit, when I first heard of this strange case, I thought of the supernatural. I mean, rocks falling from the sky, seemingly out of nowhere, a mysterious barrage upon a distinct target--it all adds up to one painfully obvious answer in my mind: poltergeist activity.
I'm sure that everybody's familiar with the "Stone-Throwing Devil" that besieged houses at Great Island, New Hampshire, in 1682. Then, in 1903, a Dutch man living in Sumatra reported that stones coming through the roof of a bedroom were unusually slow of descent and warm to the touch. As recently as November of 1968 in Nicklheim, Germany, a laborer and his family were victimized by stone showers in closed rooms. When a priest was brought in to bless the house, a large rock fell from the ceiling, yet all the doors and windows were locked tight. The rock was sooty, and "warm."
When I suggested this possibility to Sergeant Upshaw, when I submitted this documented evidence, when I asked if the poltergeist angle had ever occurred to him, he laughed and shook his head. Then he laughed some more.
I talked to a DiQuattro neighbor and Block Watch member who asked not to be identified. She has nothing but good things to say about the man accused of casting the first stones.
"The majority of the people [in the neighborhood] don't believe that Mike did it," she offers. "He was very angry; Mike voiced his opinion a lot to the police, that nothing was getting done, they weren't getting it solved, they weren't any closer than before on who was doing it."
Then she says something that strikes me as being a bit odd.
"I really don't think he started it. He definitely ended it, for now." Gosh, that almost sounds like DiQuattro, whose house is not, it should be noted, made of glass, really did throw a stone or two.
"Yes," the neighbor admits. "To try to get somebody out there that would do something, to try to find out where they were coming from and who was doing it. And I don't think any [rocks] that he might have tossed did any type of damage anywheres."
If there is one reason for a man to destroy his own possessions, you'd think it would have something to do with insurance. In this case, you'd be wrong. "To be honest with you, he stated that he hasn't made an insurance claim at all," says Sergeant Christensen. "His motivation that he gave us--he minimized what he was doing and basically said, 'Well, somebody else was doing it, but you weren't doing enough, so I'd go and throw some more rocks just to get your attention.'
"We're sitting there going, 'Oh, yeah, right.' It's like, your wife gets raped, and you get upset 'cause they're not finding people, so you go rape the next-door neighbor's wife hoping the police will respond a little more. Get outta here."
"That's what makes it so weird," agrees Upshaw. "So you go back to, what's this guy's motive? He claims it's to keep the police presence in the neighborhood, but obviously he just likes to be the center of attention."
Sergeant Christensen told me that "within 24 hours of the first night, we knew it was DiQuattro." So why did Operation Night Stoner go on for 400 taxpayer-funded hours, just to catch a guy throwing rocks?
"Because you can't get fingerprints off rocks, so we had to have a witness," Christensen explains. "And he was running his neighbors around--'Oh, they're throwing 'em over here'--he'd run all the people to one side, and then run 'em back. ... We were finally able to convince the neighbors to let us up on the roofs and to keep their mouths shut, too. So we finally got the witness we needed."
The nabbing of DiQuattro involved a sheriff's helicopter doing high-speed runs over the neighborhood, filming with an infrared camera, and officers crouched in the dark on rooftops, observing their alleged man through special night-vision goggles.
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On that fateful evening, Monday, February 5, a police officer went to DiQuattro's door and told him they were "tired of waiting for the rock thrower." Moments later, clad in a black Everlast sweat shirt, black Harley-Davidson blanket over his shoulders and a black bandanna wrapped around his head, DiQuattro emerged and tossed 11 stones in full view of the police. And their special night-vision goggles.
What did he get for his trouble? Eleven counts of disorderly conduct, three counts of false reporting and three counts of criminal damage. "From talking to him, he's as normal as I am talking to you," offers the befuddled Upshaw. "Why would you do that? He never admitted to throwing the first rock. His claim was always that rocks were coming down; nobody else would hear them, so he would basically throw some more rocks until somebody heard them and call the police. ... You've gotta have an ego the size of a truck to do this."
Whether it's pranksters, poltergeists or DiQuattro to blame, since his arrest, all of the rocks in this quiet Chandler neighborhood have stayed firmly on the ground, right where they belong.