JACKSONVILLE — Two hoax ads on Craigslist cost a Jacksonville man thousands of dollars in property Saturday and could land the pranksters in jail on theft and burglary charges.
The classified ads popped up Saturday afternoon on the Web site saying the owner of a home in the 7900 block of Sterling Creek Road was forced to leave the area suddenly and that his belongings, including a horse, were free for the taking, said Jackson County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan.
The only problem is that Robert Salisbury has no plans of leaving his home any time soon.
Salisbury, who works as an independent contractor, was at Emigrant Lake when he received a call from a woman had stopped by his house to claim his horse.
On his way home he stopped a truck loaded down with his work ladders, lawn mower and weed eater.
"I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back," Salisbury said. "They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did."
The driver then sped away after rebuking Salisbury. On his way home he spotted other cars filled with his belongings. Upon pulling into his driveway he was greeted by close to 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch.
"They were like a pack of vultures," he said.
Salisbury blocked his driveway and ordered everyone to leave his property. The trespassers, armed with printouts of the ad, tried to brush him off.
"They honestly thought that because it appeared on the Internet it was true," Salisbury said. "It boggles the mind."
Some attempted to lie saying the home's owner had just left after instructing them to take whatever they wanted, Salisbury said.
"No one told me the truth," he said. "Eventually, I lost my temper."
Jacksonville police and Jackson County sheriff's deputies soon arrived to restore order. By then, however, several cars packed with Salisbury's property had fled.
He did managed to collect license plate numbers, which he turned over to sheriff's detectives.
Michelle Easley had seen the ad earlier that day. It claimed Salisbury's horse had been declared abandoned by the sheriff's department and was free to anyone who could give it a home.
"I can't stand to see a horse suffer so I drove out there and got her," Easley said. "The horse didn't look abandoned. She is in good shape for being 32 years old."
The strangeness of the situation inspired Easley to leave a note on Salisbury's door explaining the ad. She then decided to call him to ensure the ad was legitimate when the second ad appeared claiming everything on the property was fair game.
"I feel bad because I was a part of it," Easley said. "It felt right to call the police."
Fagan praised Easley's honestly, but had stronger words for anyone who plans on keeping Salisbury's property.
"This is completely unacceptable," Fagan said. "Anyone who knowingly keeps any of these items will be prosecuted with the full extent of our resources."
Items can be returned at any time with no questions asked, Fagan said.
"The public needs to be aware that we would never post anything on Craigslist," Fagan added. "If you see something saying otherwise do not believe it."
Detectives have contacted Craigslist's legal team in an attempt to track whomever posted the ad. They also plan to trace the license plate numbers taken by Salisbury.
Possible charges connected to the case include theft, burglary, computer crime, theft by receiving and conspiracy to commit theft and burglary, Fagan said.
"We are hoping the majority of these people will have a conscience and return the property to Mr. Salisbury," Fagan said.
After the rough day, Salisbury could not even take a minute relax on his porch swing — it had been snatched earlier that afternoon, he said.
"I haven't even looked in my barn yet to see what's gone," he said. "As a contractor some of what they took was my livelihood."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.