Stealing during a funeral? How low can crime go?

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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Nothing beats a good argument to start the blood, stimulate the brain and make the bartender work overtime. But sometimes, there is no other side to take.

Like the person who decided to break into the car of the widow of former NHL coach Pat Burns and steal personal effects and memorabilia. On the day of his funeral.

That's right. The day of the man's funeral. If there is something more contemptible than that in the world of petty thievery, we'd love to hear it, if only to be able to say, "Well, that's pretty horrible, but it isn't the lowest thing ever."

Line Burns carries an urn containing the remains of her late husband, former NHL coach Pat Burns, following his funeral. (AP)  
Line Burns carries an urn containing the remains of her late husband, former NHL coach Pat Burns, following his funeral. (AP)  
Because right now, this is the clubhouse leader.

There is no earthly argument to make in favor of that one, no attempt required to see the thief's side of things, no level of need that makes this all right. This is the act of a hyena, and when Robin Burns, Pat's cousin, appealed to the thief to return the items "no questions asked," I had a question, namely:

Why can't we capture, hold and ask this person (and we use the term liberally) what possible voice in his or her head could have been so convincing that stealing a dead man's personal effects out of his widow's car the day of his memorial service would seem acceptable? Why wouldn't that be useful knowledge for some battery of psychologists? What level of hero worship (if it's that) could bring you to this particular ride in hell's amusement park, and why wouldn't we need to know a psychosis this twisted just for the next time?

Maybe there is a field of study that covers just this sort of thing (and if so, you may bet it is a dramatic series somewhere), but even if all we get out of it is a tawdry script, it's still useful.

Now don't get us wrong here -- the important thing is that the things that belong to Line Burns, Pat's wife, are returned to her. If no-questions-asked gets that done, then fine. Examining the birds in this thief's head is not worth her not getting at least this form of closure for the life her husband lived, and the remembrances of his friends and colleagues.

But if we could get both ... well, that's the best outcome. Maybe the thief could chat with some of Burns' finest on-ice enforcers, or some of his fellow Montreal policemen. Not to throw hands, mind you, but to offer added incentive for his explanation. Because, well, because if we want to study the long-term effect of concussion upon athletes, we'd also benefit from learning the long-term effect of heartless moron on the average burglar.

Oh, and if we can't track down the culprit, we could perhaps track down anyone who would buy any of Burns' effects and ask the same thing. If the answer isn't, "I did it so that I could return the items to the family, and I couldn't think of another way to do it," psychiatric care could be immediately imposed. You know, just for the medical value.

So let's review: The first duty here is make the Burns family whole again, as much as the mementos from his funeral can help. But catching the guy and letting him and any like-minded masterminds explain what in God's name could have possessed him to perform such a repulsive act is also a good thing.

A dose of planetary scorn and outrage for the giant from the world of crime wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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