It started about two years ago, when David Machado was held up at gunpoint. He was working in his shop in Tulare, the county seat of Tulare County, California, when he heard the house alarm go off. He jogged to the home he shares with his wife and saw a car parked out front. Initially, he thought the car belonged to a friend. Perhaps someone had accidentally pushed open the front door, which had a faulty latch. He went around to the back door and turned off the alarm. Then he heard the car horn.
‘Shoot his ass! Shoot his ass!” After a few tense moments, the men jumped into the car and left.
Walking back outside, Machado said he confronted three men. One pointed a gun at his chest. “I just went like this,” Machado said, lifting his empty hands in the air, “and the guy standing behind him says, ‘Shoot his ass! Shoot his ass!” After a few tense moments, the men jumped into the car and left. They only got one thing: a rosary that belonged to Machado’s grandmother-in-law.
Machado has carried a pistol ever since, but the break-ins have only increased. Once, he said, he and his wife had just returned from watching his grandchildren in a Christmas program when he heard someone throw a large stone through a bedroom window. Two men were trying to crawl in through the broken glass. Machado fired a shot into the ground to scare them away.
About a week after that, he said someone kicked down the back door and stole an air rifle. He trailed the thief around town, until he lost sight of him. “We had five incidents in about two months,” explained Machado, a compact but sprightly man with a neatly trimmed gray beard, weathered face, and quick smile.
After yet another break-in, during which someone tore open the metal wall of his farm’s workshop, Machado’s friend in the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office called him and said, “Hey, we gotta do something. This is getting old.” Machado agreed.
Their solution was SmartWater CSI, a colorless, odorless liquid that turns a yellowish hue when placed underneath a UV black light. Marketed as the ultimate theft deterrent, it comes in a nail polish–sized vial with a swab applicator. According to its manufacturer, 10 minutes after application, SmartWater will dry and remain on any nonskin surface for at least five years. But traces of SmartWater also rub off on anyone who touches it, staining skin and clothing. Theoretically, anyone trying to grab something from Machado’s workshop would get SmartWater all over their hands, leaving stains traceable by law enforcement.
In January 2018, deputies from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office set up a trap, parking a trailer and generator outside Machado’s workshop, both wired with GPS and covered in SmartWater. They waited, but no one came. A month later, Machado pulled the trailer into his workshop. That night, the alarm went off. Machado grabbed his shotgun and pistol and went to check it out.
Someone had torn away the metal wall to the workshop again, just enough for a person to squeeze through, and took a plasma cutter and one of the decoy generators. Using the planted GPS, deputies tracked down a man who had pictures of the stolen goods. They inspected his shirt with a special light. It was covered in SmartWater. Machado recounted the story to me with a certain amount of glee.
“And as they were putting him away, he said, ‘Darn SmartWater.’