A Berkeley mother whose handicapped daughter’s $10,000 computer was stolen turned sleuth and craftily led a sting operation to recover the expensive device.

Patty Mulligan had gone down to San Jose to celebrate Thanksgiving with her brother, but when she was packing up to return to Berkeley she inadvertently left her daughter’s computer on the sidewalk. She drove off, but when she remembered the device and drove back, the computer was gone, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Hedy Mulligan, 11, has a chromosomal defect that has left her mentally disabled but she can communicate by using a Dynavox computer that displays images and symbols.

After the computer went missing, Hedy was forlorn, according to the Mercury News.

“She kept looking for it. She would look at every computer screen in the house and if we pulled out our iPhone, she would try to grab it,” Mulligan said.

When Mulligan’s insurance company refused to replace the computer, the mother went into overdrive, putting up posters in her brother’s Willow Glen neighborhood and scouring Craigslist. Nothing turned up until recently, when Mulligan spotted Dynavox computer for sale on Craigslist for $3,500. Mulligan contacted the seller and arranged to meet him, and in the meantime alerted the police.

“I played dumb and asked him a lot of questions,” Mulligan told The Mercury News. “He said he bought it in a storage locker sale.”

San Jose police detectives met James Durr, 42, of San Jose, at the Capital Flea Market.  They matched the serial number and took Durr into custody.

“We were in disbelief that we had actually recovered it,” Mulligan told the Mercury News. “It just seemed like it was gone.”

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...