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Name That Mystery

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Kathleen (a.k.a. Kathy) here with a little real-life mystery.

A few years ago, I went to the mailbox and pulled out the usual jumble of 80% post-consumer-content papers. Bills. Statements. An assortment of catalogs. One #10 envelope caught my eye: a letter from the Multnomah County Circuit Court.

I tore it open in the driveway and read.

I was being called to appear as a witness to a crime committed in Portland by someone with my last name.

My mind stuttered.

My brother-in-law goes by the name of the person who had allegedly committed the crime. But that’s his middle name, not his first. Plus, I was pretty sure I wasn’t in Portland on the date in question. And despite having the memory of a goldfish, I was also pretty sure I hadn’t witnessed a crime.

I called the court clerk’s office. After several very long conversations with people who were as confused as I was, it became clear that someone had pulled my address rather than that of another woman who shared my first, middle, and last name—and who was married to the man accused of the crime—and the mix-up ensued.

Satisfied with the explanation and the promise of a resolution, I filed away the paperwork and forgot all about it. Until I got another official-looking letter two years later.

It was a traffic citation for running a red light in Salem.

Okay, yes, I’ve accelerated through the occasional yellow light. But I’ve never run a red. And I hadn’t been to Salem in years. Confident it was another case of mistaken identity, probably with the same woman, I called the number on the citation and explained.

I could hear the smirk in the clerk’s voice right away. Suuuuuure I didn’t run the light. Suuuuuure there was someone else with my name committing moving violations and witnessing crimes.

He asked me for my date of birth. I provided it. The voice-smirk returned, even broader. “Yep,” he said. “That’s what I have here on the vehicle registration.”

That’s when panic set in.

There was a woman out there with my exact name and date of birth!!! And she wasn’t exactly endearing herself to the police!!!!!

I wanted to use all the exclamation points. Then borrow a cup from my neighbor.

Instead, I put on my calm voice—the one I use to tell someone there’s a spider on them—and told the clerk my story.

He wasn’t having it.

So I re-explained. Re-pleaded. Re-argued. Surely there was some kind of mistake! Surely he could see that the woman whose picture accompanied the citation was older than the date of birth indicated! Surely there was some reasonable explanation, especially given that I don’t own that type of vehicle and live three hours away!

I kept waiting for him to quote Airplane! and tell me to stop calling him Shirley.

Fortunately, he connected me to someone else, who then connected me to someone else.

Several hours, many phone calls, and a trip down to the DMV later, the truth emerged. When the other Valentis (the same couple mentioned earlier) purchased a vehicle, their registration was incomplete. Intent to fill in the blanks, a DMV employee searched the database, came up with my information, and put my data on their form.

Voila! Form complete. And identities exchanged.

It was enough to make me want to go back to my somewhat unpronounceable but reassuringly rare maiden name.

We finally, fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally got it all straightened out. But the experience was more than a little unnerving.

The silver lining? It reminded me how often brushes with mystery have provided great fodder for my books.

The technology aspect of PROTOCOL was based in part on a computer repair snafu in which our hard drive was swapped out for someone else’s by the repair center.

39 WINKS was inspired by my own chronic sleepwalking.

In AS DIRECTED, Maggie struggles with post-concussion syndrome, something my husband experienced after a bad snowmobile accident.

This case of mistaken identity seems like a great beginning for a book. Ditto for the mysterious packages that arrived at my home with no return address, invoice or packing slip. Double ditto for the true crimes that rocked my hometown. (More on those in future posts.)

Will The Case of the Other Valenti make it into a future book? What about these other brushes with mystery? Only time—and the muse—will tell.

Oh and also? My son now attends school with someone who shares an almost identical name, causing mass lunch account and attendance confusion. (On the other hand, the other junior Valenti was just named student of the month, so it kind of worked out for my kid.)

Have you had any brushes with mystery—name-related or otherwise? Please share!  

 

 

34 thoughts on “Name That Mystery

  1. Ugh, that sounds like a huge pain! I’m lucky my name is pretty unique and hasn’t generated any real-life mysteries for me. Speaking of mysterious packages though, a few years after I moved into my place my neighbor received a package for my address, opened it without looking at the name, then left it on my doorstep with an apology note. Except the package wasn’t really for me, it was for who I’m guessing was the previous resident. And the packing slip inside was dated five years in the past! I emailed the company that had sent it, but they said they’d already written off the item and didn’t want it back. The real question is, where had this package been during the five years between shipping and delivery?

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  2. I’ve often thought things happen to writers that don’t happen to other people. Perhaps, because in the great universe of things, writers are tasked to create and entertain. I know I once had a UPS package delivered to my front door with $50,000 inside. No, I didn’t order a bagful of money, but I did call the police. Like you that story sits on my desk top waiting to be used in a yet-to-be-written mystery. Keep writing, I love your books.

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  3. Well, this wasn’t a crime. But I was previously married, and not long after I fled to NYC, a woman with the same first and middle names as me(thanks, 1960s)moved in with my ex and drove my old car. When they married, we shared a full name, and the poor thing was often referred to as “Lisa 2.” She even got to share a credit score with a newly-divorced single mom trying to make ends meet on an entry-level publishing salary in the big city. The confusion outlasted the marriage.

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  4. Alfred Hitchcock became famous for his “wrong man” mysteries, so maybe you’re onto something here, Kathleen. Both I and my wife have common names. She changed her last name to mine when we got married, and our lawyer ran a search on her maiden name, as a precaution against incidents like the one you’ve mentioned. As I recall, we found at least one felon with that name. As for me, I’ve been held in a store because someone with my name was passing bad checks, and when I was single, a woman called my house to break a date with me. Problem was, I had never made a date with her–maybe it was the bad-check passer. I told her that was adding insult to injury…

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    • You may have helped that woman dodge a bullet! And how awful to be held for a crime you didn’t commit. Definitely a real-life wrong man mystery! (PS I have a good friend from high school named Tom Burns. 🙂 )

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  5. Wow, Kathy! What a story! My husband had his car registration stolen. Turns out a DMV employee was selling them. Arrested! Byron is my dad’s middle name. My birth name is Seideman, which I stopped using years ago because it was always misspelled or mispronounced. BUT not only is there a WSJ writer named Ellen Byron, when I wrote for Redbook, there was an editor named Ellen Seideman. And Seideman, BTW, isn’t the family’s real surname, which appears to have been a series of consonants that so befuddled the folks at Ellis Island that they borrowed the last name of distant relatives who met my ancestors at the boat. At least that’s the family story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • ZOIKS about the DMV employee! CRAzy. And love your name history!!

      Several years ago, my dad visited his grandparents’ town in Armenia (they escaped during the genocide). Before he left, he did a bunch of research and discovered that they changed their surname en route to America because they were worried they’d be followed to the U.S.. I can’t remember the real name anymore, but I do remember that it was even more complicated than Melkonian, which I had to spell/over-enunciate whenever I introduced myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, amazing story, Kathy! So did you open the packages? Reminds me of those posters they have up at the post office telling you all the warning signs of packages you should not open–no return address, powder on the package(!), way too much tape…

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    • Yes! The packages came via Amazon and looked legit. It’s part of this weird scam called “brushing.” We got some weird stuff, including a bubble-making machine and a sweatshirt that says, “I’m a cat.” I kept wondering what would show up next!

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  7. That is so cool and, yanno, horrifying, Kathy! Actually, all these stories are. I use so many different names that when I have to sign a credit card slip I have to look at my card to see which name to sign. And nobody has EVER called me on it, like, “Um, lady? Did you steal that card?”

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  8. Robin is an unreasonably common first name for women (in the US) in my age group. Gardner (my married name) is fairly common as well. I have gotten collection calls for student loans (all of my loans were under my maiden name) and that person had a SSN very close to mine, I have picked up prescriptions (the piece of paper) from the Ortho doc written for a different Robin Gardner – I’d probably have been arrested if I tried to fill them! Oh, and there is a gentleman in the UK who has ALMOST the exact same gmail address as mine and I was getting a lot of email for him for awhile!

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    • Wow, Robin!! That is a lot of same-name confusion!! (And the close SSN is scary!

      Oh, and your UK email story reminded me that my husband thought he’d been emailing his cousin for years (also a gmail address). Turned out it was a different (same first name) Valenti who finally wrote him back and said that while he enjoyed our Christmas letter and general family updates, he wasn’t the intended recipient. Ha ha!

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