Vancouver - Just before 5 a.m. on Sunday Robert Bertrand received a voice mail from the Clark County Sheriff's Office: It looks like you were burglarised last night. Give 911 a call.
Someone had broken into his Vancouver, Washington, escape room, an interactive choose-your-adventure game where customers are locked inside and find clues that will lead them out.
"I ran upstairs," Bertrand, 40, told The Washington Post; his wife, Tamara, was still asleep in their bedroom. "I said, 'Tamara, you've got to get up. Things are going down, we've got to get to work.'"
Within minutes, they arrived at NW Escape Experience, the business they opened a year earlier.
The former Comcast sales supervisor and movie memorabilia collector called the escape room his true calling. He first learned about them at his son's birthday. Two and a half months later, the couple bit the bullet - no pun intended. In October 2016, they opened their first room: the Kill Room, blood-spattered and designed to look like a serial killer's basement hideout.
NW Escape Experience has three themed rooms - a serial killer adventure, where players have been abducted; the comedic Hangover Hotel; and the FBI Investigation, based on the skyjacking of flight No. 305 in 1971, a true story. In all scenarios, players are trapped for 60 minutes. The goal is to escape by successfully completing a series of riddles.
"If you don't know what you're getting into, stepping into that room is actually pretty scary," said Rob Bertrand, referring to the Kill Room. The room features an authentic steel autopsy table and a dead body in the center. There's also a work bench for the murderer's tools and a desk for crime-planning.
"I was expecting the worst," Tamara Bertrand, 41, recalled pulling into the strip mall complex on July 8. Four police cruisers lined the curb and she expected the front glass windows would be shattered and the electronics stolen. "I figured it would cost us a lot of money and a lot of heartache," she told The Post.
Chuckling, Clark County Deputy Sheriff Rob Ternus approached the couple and pointed at one of the cop cars. Rob Bertrand remembered a man, later identified as Rye Wardlaw, 40, with cropped hair and a slightly unkempt goatee sitting in the back seat, rambling incoherently. Ternus said the man broke into the business, got scared and called 911 on himself.
Wardlaw unsuccessfully attempted to enter through the back door using a metal pipe, Tamara Bertrand said the police told her. Then he allegedly busted a hole through a bathroom wall, climbed into an electrical closet and toppled over a set of lockers.
Based on an audio recording taken from inside the business, authorities believed Wardlaw snatched a nonworking phone, a television remote, and a can of beer from the fridge, and wandered into the creepy unlit room. At the time, Ternus said, he was also carrying a burrito.
Although the Kill Room is equipped with a panic door that always remains unlocked, it appeared Wardlaw freaked out before using it. According to the caller ID system, the burglar called 911 four times from inside NW Escape Experience.
Ternus confirmed that Wardlaw was on the premises when deputies arrived. He was taken into custody and admitted to the crime, Ternus said.
Wardlaw has been charged with second-degree burglary and is next scheduled to appear in court on July 20, according to court records. Defense attorney Therese Marie Lavallee could not be reached immediately for comment.
The Bertrands quickly realised the damage to their business, which they estimated at $1 500 (about R20 000), wasn't terrible. Then, they both agreed, their Sunday morning was pretty jovial.
The Washington Post