Top 5 Illegal Items Found In Storage Units

One thing common about storage rental is that there is always a list of things you’re not allowed to put in a storage unit. There are usually the same across the board. Nothing that could explode, nothing that could start a fire, nothing that could die, nothing that could attract pests. These rules are pretty universal because they’re basic health and safety issues. One particular item you also always find is that you can’t use storage for “anything illegal.” You’d think that’d be obvious, but it turns out that people using storage for something illegal is actually shockingly common.

police tape stretched across a crime scene
Photo by Kat Wilcox

Illegal Use of Storage

When I say shockingly common, I mean it, too. I could make a top five list of the most common types of illegal activities that storage units get used for. These range from the hilarious to the “so depressing it makes me lose faith in humanity” types of crimes. Yeah, researching this subject was . . . not pleasant. I’m gonna spare you the worst, though, and keep it to things that will be kind of amusing, or at least not too depressing. So, without further ado, here are the top 5 illegal items found in storage units.

1. Murder Evidence

A running theme that cropped up with making this list was someone discovering evidence of a crime after they got the contents of a storage shed in an auction. It seems a lot of people like to rent storage units to hide evidence of a crime, then forget that if they don’t keep making payments on the storage unit, it goes up for bidding.

In this case, a man by the name of Rick Ratzlaff – who wins the award for “having the name most likely to inspire a rodent themed super villain” (boy these high school awards get oddly specific sometimes) – bought a storage unit at an auction and found a bunch of envelops. They contained the following items: a bloody rope, blood-soaked socks, an axe, and a whole bunch of documents. It turned out, this was the evidence of the murder of a young woman named Candice Hiltz that had been collected by a police officer who had previously owned the storage unit. The murder currently remains unsolved, but the officer in question was charged with mishandling evidence. It’s a tangled case and, as it’s still ongoing, I wouldn’t want to speculate further at this time.

2. An ID Theft Business

stolen credit cards from an ID theft ringIt’s amazing that an officer mishandling evidence would hide it in a rented storage unit, given how often that leads to evidence being uncovered at auctions. That’s once again the case here. A man in Denver bought a storage unit at an auction hoping it would have things he could sell. Instead, he found it was full of hundreds of passports, social security cards, and medical records. Further investigation turned up drug paraphernalia, actual drugs, and a printer used for creating counterfeit documents. At this point, the man knew there’d be trouble if he didn’t report it, so he took it all to a local news station.

The news station investigated and found they’d been stolen from a hospital by a disgruntled ex-employee, who was working with the storage unit’s owner to operate an identity theft ring. After the police got involved, both parties were arrested and sentenced to 4 to 6 years in prison for a variety of identity theft related charges.

3. Grandma’s Corpse

Not everything illegally stored is the result of some horrible crime. Despite “grandma’s corpse” being the name of this item, this one fortunately isn’t some horrible murder, but a combination of a mistake and mental health issues. You see, a woman in Florida suffered two tragedies. First, her mother died (who was 95 at the time and died of natural causes, so that’s not the most horrible thing). The woman promised to take care of everything, as you do. Then there was a massive storm and a truck that just wouldn’t start, so she decided to just put her mother’s corpse into a storage unit and take care of it later.

Grief does strange things to people, and when this mixes with mental illness – such as hoarding behavior – it gets even stranger. The woman apparently couldn’t cope with the death, so she kept putting off doing anything about it until it became embarrassing instead of just tragic. She simply never told anyone until her deathbed, when she finally admitted it to her children.

That must have been an awkward conversation. “By the way, your grandmother’s corpse is in my storage shed and I’ve just been too embarrassed to do anything about it. Now pardon me, I have to die.”

Fortunately, all parties have been laid properly to rest now and the matter is resolved. It makes for a great example of why psychologists are valued members of society, though. Don’t be afraid to work out your issues, folks. It avoids so much stress and shame.

4. A Live Hand Grenade

No explosives is a hard rule right in the contract of every single storage rental company in the US. For good reason, too. Some explosives deteriorate over time and can become extremely volatile – the most famous is how TNT decomposes into nitroglycerine, which is far more unstable. Others might just go off if the temperature rises too high, something that can easily happen in storage units that lack temperature control.

That didn’t stop someone from storing a live hand grenade in a Michigan storage unit and then forgetting about it. After purchasing the unit at an auction, the new owner found it sitting in a box, just waiting to go off. After presumably changing his pants – because anybody would soil themselves after a discovery like that, you know it’s true! – he reported this to the police, who sent the bomb squad. The grenade was successfully detonated with no injuries or collateral damage, but it very easily could have gone worse. Don’t store explosives in storage units, people. In fact, avoid storing explosives at all unless you’re a business that has proper explosive storage facilities. This should be common sense.

Seen here: artist’s rendition of the man in question

5. An Actual Burglar

Let’s end this on a light-hearted note. In 2011, a man in Missouri decided robbing a storage facility would be a quick score. Lots of targets, high potential for valuables, few people to see it getting done; it was just too tempting. On his very first break-in, as he was stuffing his swag bag full of somebody else’s hard earned property, a security guard came by. Seeing the door partially open, he thought someone must have forgot to close their storage unit, so he shut it and locked it. Some time later, the guard came back that way and heard the burglar attempting to break out and called the police.

What can you say, except “Whoops.”

Use Storage Units Responsibly (And Legally)

The problem with any list of don’ts is that it cannot be comprehensive. You think common sense will count for something, but there’s always someone who just isn’t with the program. That’s why “don’t do anything illegal” is used as a catch-all phrase. It seems obvious, but a lot of people still do it. Having a broad clause like that in the contract makes it clear that the owner of the storage facility is not condoning any action of the sort.

What you should take away from these stories is obvious: don’t store illegal stuff in your storage shed. SOMEONE is going to find it eventually. Most likely they’ll find it when you miss a payment and your storage shed goes up for auction. Don’t leave evidence of your crimes as a heart-attack inducing surprise for some innocent person who comes after you. Always make sure you properly destroy your evidence by dissolving it in acid.

Er . . . I mean . . . don’t do crime folks! Crime is bad!