Constructing and Finding Hiding Places, By Eli in The Southwest

Thursday, Nov 29, 2012

I am a law enforcement officer by trade. The area I work, as more and more areas often do nowadays, has an unfortunate problem with Meth. Most often, Meth is carried in 1.5”x1.5” plastic baggies that are usually folded up. As you can imagine, people get awfully desperate when trying to hide them.  As you can also imagine, a large portion of my time is spent trying to find them. If you imagine something about the size of a postage stamp or SD card that will give you a pretty good idea of the size we are dealing with. I also have investigated countless burglary calls, so have seen firsthand not only the patterns that thieves follow when searching for loot, but the patterns people follow when hiding things. I also happen to be a prepper, so in addition to needing to find stuff in my job, I understand the need for discreet storage in my personal life. I will approach this article from two ways: First, I’ll go over some of the more imaginative places I’ve seen things hidden, and hopefully share some tips and tricks that will open up more storage/hiding places for you. Second, I’ll go over some steps and methods to help you find things if you are the one looking. The better you get at finding things, the better you get at hiding them. Whether it’s hiding something quickly on your person or finding something on someone you are searching, or creating a long term cache, I hope this helps open up some new avenues to you.

Part 1- Hiding things-
So what are you hiding? I agree with JWR whole-heartedly that it is a lot harder for people to steal (or seize) what they cannot find.  Gold/silver, guns, ammo, USB drives, documents, etc. Anything of value to you.  Maybe you just need more room for your food storage.  Hiding places are truly only limited by your imagination. Shape, Shine, Shadow, Silhouette etc still apply when hiding objects as well as yourself.  This article will mainly focus on hiding areas and compartments.  So let’s begin…

ON YOUR PERSON: From the bottom up, let’s start with the shoes. Many of the new skate style shoes have a thick tongue. This tongue can be cut (along a seam) and items inserted in this. In addition the insole can be removed and items placed beneath. On crocs or even sandals, the sole can be split, filled, and glued back. On regular shoes, the sole (think where the air pocket on Nike’s is) can usually be cut and hollowed out. The heel of a shoe tends to have a lot of padding, and this provides some area to work with.  Shoes can be bought with both tongue and heel hiding places already constructed.

Obviously, anything can be tucked into a sock. For pants, the bottom cuff of pants can store items. You can also fold the cuff internally and sew or Velcro shut. Hidden pockets can be sewn anywhere on pants.  Seams are good places for these, as the thickness of the material will provide support and break up any imprint of the item, and if being patted down, the hard seam may hide the object from touch.  The edges of cargo pockets are also viable options, as well as the flap of the pocket. Most pocket flaps are double thickness, and can be opened, filled, and resealed easily. If you are doing this, make sure the objects are silenced and cant jangle against one another. Hidden storage belts are very common, and easily missed during a quick pat down.  Likewise with the back of a belt buckle or one with a removable object on the front. The same hiding places for pants also apply to shirts, with the addition of under or inside of a collar or thicker sewn in tag. For hats, inside of the sweat band, or tucked into a slit in the underside of the bill. Foam front hats can be altered in this way as well.  Belts also do not just need to be for holding your pants up.  You can tuck a gun into a belt that is worn up closer to chest level (up to your arm pits) on your body in a pinch, or have a knife taped to your inner thigh or upper hamstring area. Both the Keltec P3AT and the Ruger  LCP have available belt clips for them. The clip extends higher than the back of the pistol, so all that appears in a pocket is a clip that looks like a knife.

BICYCLES: Obviously, tires can be used as storage places.  The frames on bikes are hollow, and can be accessed from the seat, handle bar, or even crank area on some brands. Seat stems quickly remove and provide hollow storage, especially on newer bikes with quick adjust seats. You can tape items to the underside of the seat. Or buy a seat cover and keep items between the cover and the seat. On bicycles with straight grips, you can make a thin lit in the flat distal end of the rubber grip. Items can be inserted, and the hole is self-closing. Bicycle helmets are also options, with both padding that can be removed and foam to work with. Bicycles are also stolen, so be sure to guard against this and keep this in mind when using them to store items..

VEHICLES: A whole book could be written on this, and smugglers are coming up with some pretty ingenious methods. Cars are stolen, so I don’t advocate storing long term items in them (IE Guns), but there may come a time and place. Every vehicle is different. Anything with padding can be stuffed, and any dead space can be taken advantage of.  I strongly encourage you to look through your vehicle, both inside and out, top and bottom. After market tube bumpers can be filled with items. Stock  bumpers can have things tucked inside. Speakers can be removed. Again, tires can be filled. In the engine compartment, you can remove the air filter or fuse box. Or install a false fuse box. With all of the aftermarket items inside of cars now, it’s hard to tell what is stock and what is not (think about the K and N cold air filters). Get some large radiator hose and attach it to random spots in the engine compartment for some pretty secret storage. Anything that has to be bolted down is highly unlikely to be unbolted during a search, and provides a good starting point. Engines also have a lot of undercarriage armoring or protection that can be removed and used. Wheel wells usually have some storage space, and most vehicles have body panels that provide a lot of room to work with. Under a dash board, you can access vents as well as a lot of empty space. Door panels can be removed, as well as seat cushions (or slit and stuffed.)  In the glove box, there is an area under the box on the door, as well as below the dash if you remove the glove box/door fully. If you have a sunroof, the area between the glass piece and the interior padding can store things. In the console area, you can remove the plastic housing. Most ashtrays remove to empty, and provide access to a dead space behind them. The soft boot on a parking brake or manual transmission can be removed and filled. Airbags can be removed.  Dome lights can be removed and have the headliner accessed. The actual trunk portion that lifts up provides a lot of room, as do most light housing areas. Under any carpet in the vehicle.  Behind a license plate. Under a truck bed liner. Under a false floor in a tool box in the bed. Between the tool box and bed.  People can go so far as to install a smaller gas tank with a hidden compartment in the unused space.  In general, the more you can return the appearance to standard, the better. If you slit a seat, install Velcro or stitch it back up. If you lift the carpet, glue it back down. Do not leave pry marks on the dash board or door panels. Old vehicles are somewhat easier to work with, as they do a better job of disguising things as minor wear and tear.  If you have a rundown vehicle in the yard, you have more options. Park it on a buried 55 gallon drum. Remove the valve covers, hide things there, and replace them.  If the vehicle is not running, any hoses can be filled.  You can remove the wheels from a car, jack it up, put stuff where the gas tank was, then lower it down.  Let your imagination guide you.  Anything in the engine compartment will get hot and dirty.

THE YARD: With anything stored outside, be sure to weatherproof your container. Underground storage areas are very difficult to find, especially if you conceal them well. Metal detectors are becoming more commonplace, so be mindful of this. If it is a long term cache, leave it. Don’t check it every month and leave telltale signs or a path in the grass or freshly dug dirt. If you are concerned about metal detectors, place some old pipe fittings in the dirt above your cache and below the ground level. Fence tubing can be used. If building a wall, you can fill a cinder block with goods for long term storage. If you need easier access, remove a specific cap piece on top of the wall. Like wise with a 4x4 fence post.  These can be drilled nearly hollow then capped with a decorative piece.  Bird houses can be filled, or built with a false floor.  If building a raised bed garden, filled PVC tubes can be laid in the bottom. How many times have you seen people searching/looting a house dig up a garden? On a deck or play structure, any number of compartments can be fitted to the cross beams of the flooring. Don’t overlook a child’s sandbox. If you build your own, it is very simple to simply install a double floor for your goods, then fill with sand.  Old cars (see above), garden hose rolls (the roller), decorative yard art or sculptures, junked appliances, again let your imagination guide you. You can remove a brick from a wall, construct a fake brick out of floral foam that can be hollowed out, and paint to match your wall. Buy an outdoor speaker rock, and remove the guts. Hide something under your wood pile.  Be creative. Think like a kid again. Ask your kids where they would hide things.

HOME EXTERIOR: This is one of my favorites. Most people overlook the exterior of a home for any worthwhile goods. People know that spare keys are under mats, plants, etc, by the front door. On a patio/porch cover, if you have exposed beams, install new paneling pieces in the space between them. If you use spacers, you can still have exposed beams and hide the appearance of your cache. If you have a flat patio cover, you can hide a great number of items on top of it, against the roof. Have you ever looked behind the bird blocks on your roof? There is space there as well. Look at all of the pipes, vents, chimneys, etc, coming off of your roof. It would be very simple to construct a false vent pipe, sand to fit, paint to match, and no one would be the wiser.  Likewise with the random cable, phone, sprinkler controller boxes on houses now. How many does your house have? If you can’t name the number, someone looting won’t know either.  Buy an extra, set it up, and store away!
You can also landscape for success here too. Plants that drop a ton of leaves can hide a lot of ground work, and if you do bury something in a garden, it’s a great spot for your cactus collection.  Hide something inside your dog house when you build it. Or your chicken coop.
 
HOME INTERIOR: This is where it gets interesting.  Most burglaries I have seen people go through all of the usual hiding places. Drawers, cabinets, closets, nightstands, mattresses, under beds, behind pictures on the wall, book case. If something can get pushed over, its going to. So don’t hide things there. Let’s get wiser.
 
Let’s start with the laundry room. Do your cabinets go all the way to the ceiling? If not, consider a fascia piece and Velcro or screws to hold it in place. Now, they look like they go to the ceiling and you have a lot of storage. The same with a toe kick piece on the bottom of cabinets. Remove it, and reattach with Velcro, magnets, or screws.  Most cabinets also have an overhang on the bottom and top. You can fit a flush (horizontal) top or bottom and have a lot of storage. On washing machines and dryers, especially older models, there is a lot of dead space that can be accessed by removing the paneling. Obviously, be careful of what you are storing there, and the machine’s effects on it and its effect on the machine.  How many hoses and vents come off of your washer and dryer? Would a looter notice an extra 6” vent piece on the back of your dryer?  Do you use powdered laundry detergent? You can hide a lot in the bottom of a five gallon bucket of powder or large box of tide.  Same thing with bleach. Empty a bleach container, wash, dry, and fill with goods. Store in the back behind a couple other full bottles of bleach.

THE KITCHEN:  How many decorative containers do you have on the cabinets in your kitchen? Try putting food storage in them. How about under your stove?  How about in the warming drawer? What about the vent above your stove?  Remove the fascia piece on the bottom of your dishwasher? Do your cabinets have dead space around corners?  Do your counters have an overhanging lip? Could you flush mount a thin veneer under them? Some of the more amazing hiding places I have seen constructed involved water filters. One was a screw in water filter in the fridge that was hollowed out.  The other was an under the sink water filter, again, that was just the shell and had been hollowed out.  It is easy to overlook these, and if the power and water is off, its easy to excuse them not working. It Is also easy to install an extra piece or two of PVC pipe under a sink that are going nowhere. Unless you take the time to look, most will not notice an extra pipe.  How many chemicals do you keep under your sink? Can you store something in your ajax container?  How about where you store all of your plastic bags?  Be careful of hiding things in food (IE bottom of rice bucket.) Depending on how bad things are and who is doing the looting, that may be what people are looking for.  How about your pantry?  What about installing a 2 inch shelf above the door jam on the inside? How many times have you seen the wall above your closet door from the inside? Exactly….that is what makes it a great place to hide things. Depending on how small the pantry is and how high your ceiling is, you can go so far as to install a false ceiling. Because the lighting is usually different or non existent in the pantry/closet, false ceiling are a lot harder to pick out. Put a 2x4 so the 4” side is vertical on either short edge of the ceiling. Cut a piece of plywood to fit, and screw into the 2x4. 3.5” of storage space will fit most guns. Paint and texture to match. This works very well for a long term cache, when you can tape/caulk the seams, etc, and just leave it alone.  How about a decorative backsplash behind a sink or stove? Can you use one to hide a between the studs cache in the wall?  How about the inside of chandelier glass? Or screw in light covers? Add lots of dead bugs to hide any shadows cast.  How about where your ceiling fan attached to the ceiling? Or your smoke alarm? If you take them out, you have access to a lot of space under your ceiling insulation, and can put back a functioning item to hide your entrance point.  How about the dishes you have stacked up? How many coins could you tape to the bottom of your plates?

Moving on to the living room/dining room…Couches make great, but obvious places to hide things. But how about a lamp base? How about a curtain rod? How about sewn into the fold on the bottom of a curtain? Can you install a false bottom on your dining chairs? How about your dining room table? Coffee table? Are there angled support pieces in the corners?  If you do store stuff in a chair, be sure to pad the contents to keep them quiet, and do it to all of the chairs so it looks factory. How about speakers?  When looking at furniture, try to figure out where the dead space is.

Then, figure out how you can build a compartment to take advantage of it. Indoor plants are great too.  A nalgene bottle will hold a lot, and is waterproof enough to put in the bottom of a plant pot and leave under a plant and soil.

File cabinets are usually opened up, gone through, and tipped over. Most drawers are not removed. If you do remove the bottom drawer, you have some pretty good space below the drawer. An even better spot is secured to the inside of the top (above the top drawer) if the item is small enough.

Beds are common places to hide things, usually under them or in the mattress. So be different. Hollow out a bed post or leg if you have a wooden bed. Install a second piece of wood to the back of your head board to create a spot.  Dressers drawers will get pulled out and dumped out. If you must hide in a dresser, build a spot above the top drawers on the inside of the top, or to the side of the edge drawers. Take advantage of your dead space.  For bookcases, most have with a decorative fascia on the top shelf or below the bottom shelf. Don’t just hide things there. Screw a sheet of board onto it to really secure it.

Bathrooms are great too. Does your bathroom have two sinks? Use one and convert the plumbing in the other to storage. Tampon/Pad boxes are good for hiding things. How about a spare trash can with opened feminine products on top? Have a shower or bath you don’t use? What can you fit in the drain? What about in the faucet/water fixture. How about that costco sized bottle that used to have shampoo in it? What about your shower or bath itself? Do you have a seat in your shower? How about the entire frame of your bath? All of this is dead space waiting to be used. What can you attach to string or wire and put down the toilet? What about fitting things in the float ball in the toilet tank? Is there a brick in your toilet tank? Can you hollow out the bottom of the brick?
What about the closet? People look behind clothes hanging in closets. People don’t look in the pockets of clothes hanging in the closet. Or pinned under the collar of a jacket. Do you have shelves in the closet? Under the bottom shelf, up against the wall is a good place. Closets are great places to remove the base board and create a cache. You can attach it back with Velcro or magnets, but screws work better.  If your closet is wider than the door, can you build a partition against one wall? Again, if you take the time to finish it right, the lighting and presence of things in the closet will help to hide it.  Will 4” of wall space missing stand out amongst old clothes and Christmas decorations?

Attics make great places too. Under insulation is always a great option. If you have spray in insulation, it is very hard to make it look untampered with. Roll insulation is easier. With the amount of venting going around, is the searcher really going to confirm where each duct is going to? Consider adding a false duct for storage.  Bury one end in the insulation somewhere, and have the other go off into a dark corner.  Get to a corner of the attic, and screw a sheet of plywood between (not to the beams, but between) two beams to create a compartment against the roof. Basements are great places also. Think of structural dead space, and choose the nastiest, darkest corner you have. Put a cardboard box of water damaged magazines in front of it.

For true cache type hiding places, you need to think construction.  Install a new shower with a seat and take advantage of the dead space. When framing a wall, door, or window, put an extra few 2x4’s on the base plate. Drill out a space big enough for coins, USB drives, etc. Understand these are not going to be accessed easily. When installing flooring, think about a floor safe. I helped a friend build an addition onto his house. When pouring the foundation, we sank a tube safe in the concrete. It got filled, covered with Thinset, and tiled over.  Do you have a bay window? Build a seat to fill in the angle, but have the seat lift for storage. You can frame out a rectangular storage area under the hinged seat, but will still have the triangular areas on either end the are accessed by taking the whole thing apart.  Have an interior wall where insulation doesn’t matter? Replace the drywall with plywood on either side and have a great storage area between the studs. Any electrical outlet, surround sound speaker, phone jack, cable hook up is a great access point. Or install a few fake ones. Newer houses have drain access points on opposite walls from the plumbing, and these make excellent spots also.

In the garage, make things look boring. No one goes through a bin of old newspapers. Or looks in the bottom of a bucket of rusty bolts.  Or looks under the salt pellets in a water softener. Or looks under the wooden shelves you built to see the double plywood layer with storage space between.  Or dumps out the 5 gallon bucket of off color paint on clearance at home depot to find the Nalgene bottle in the bottom of it. Most commercial metal shelves have a lip on the bottom front, and you can store things under them.
One last thing is your safe. I assume you have one, it is bolted down, and kept locked. Better yet, you have a cheap throw down safe in your closet and the real one in a hidden room.  What about storing stuff under the carpet in your safe? Or on the inside edge of the lip in the front frame piece around the door, on the sides and top? If the safe is bolted to the concrete, did you put a cache in the wall it is up against? How about in the ground under it?

Another option is hollow core doors. The top can be removed, and lots of things stored inside. How about inside the decorative crown molding on the ceiling?
There is a thought that you can build armor to defeat any bullet, and can build a bullet to defeat any armor. Hiding things is like this. Someone can find any hiding spot you have given enough time and effort.  You want to make it as boring and horrible a process for them that they stop well before they find what they are looking for. If you have something hidden in the yard, put the trash can with the dog poop by it. And get a skunk to spray it. And plant a cactus by it. Make someone searching take one look at it and mentally give up before they start. People often look IN things, but rarely look AT the thing itself. Take advantage of this. People also look in places where they themselves hide things, and you can learn a lot by watching someone search. If you alter something, repair it as close to original as you can. Or alter everything the same way. Once you hide something, LEAVE IT THERE. Every time you check on it, you are creating an opportunity to leave a trail or alter something that will make it show.  Maybe today is the day your hand is dirty and will leave a hand print, or you will break a branch on the plant.  Maybe you will be in a hurry and not put things back right.

Part 2 Finding things-
Let’s start with a little on human behavior. Police are not trained to find criminals. We are trained to look for patterns, and notice when something breaks a pattern, or follows one we have already recognized. When I stop a car and the driver instantly lights up a cigarette and starts puffing away like a steam engine going uphill, I instantly think of two options. One, the person has been drinking and is trying to hide the smell of alcohol. Two, the person has a warrant, and is trying to get in a last bit of nicotine before jail. This is just from watching people over a long period of time. Next time you are carrying a gun, pay attention to how often you subconsciously touch it. When you get out of your car, when you go into a business, when you stand up, or sit down. Some people want to keep their drugs as close to them as they can. Others will do their best to stay as far away from them as they can (IE drugs are in the car, and they meet you at the trunk of the car when you stop them they are out their door so fast.) People are creatures of habit. People also tend to be lazy by nature. These two things come in handy when looking for things. When hiding things, people tend to want somewhere quickly accessible, and within reach.  When searching, people tend to get lazy, and look where they would hide things. You must be methodical and systematic. Don’t be afraid to take a break during a search for something if you find you are losing focus.

SEARCHING A PERSON:  So you are manning your LP/OP and you contact someone. In the course of the contact, they need to be searched. First, have a minimum of two people to search anyone. Safety and awareness are paramount. While one is doing the tactile portion, the second should be looking at the person’s body language, etc. A third and fourth person would ideally be providing cover.  The safest way is to have the person undress, and to go through their belongings inch by inch. This is not always possible. First, look at the person. Do you see any obvious bulges, or unevenness anywhere?  Have them interlock their fingers on the back of their head, with their pinkies up. Grasp their hands, and pull them backwards, so they are off balance. If you have the manpower, have one person hold them like this and have another search them. To search, you must touch everywhere, with enough time and pressure. You are looking and feeling or anything out of the ordinary. Go Slow. You are looking for a handcuff key under a seam of their pants or something of the like (In the academy, we were taught to look for a handcuff key. It’s the smallest thing that can kill you. Spend time with your spouse hiding a hand cuff key and trying to find it. Truly believe the person has a handcuff key or a mini SD card on them every time you search. Actively search. DO NOT GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS) IF ANYTHING FEELS OR LOOKS DIFFERENT, INVESTIGATE FURTHER! Did something crinkle? Did it not bend how it should? Go all the way up the inner thigh. Check inside the waist band. When going through clothes/shoes away from the person, look over and touch every inch. Look at the seams. Look at the thread used, the stitch pattern. Bend the item in your fingers. Take the insoles out of the shoes. Compare the two in weight.  Compare the two or the left and right side in feel.  Look at the belt buckle. Look at the belt. Look inside the hat. GO SLOW.  They sell handcuff key zipper pulls, as well as paracord bracelet clips that have them in them. VERIFY EVERYTHING, AND DO NOT ASSUME.
When searching a car, a good place to start is to sit in the driver’s seat.  Remember, people are lazy. What can you reach? Where do your hands go to when you reach under the seat?  To the visor? Under the passenger seat? Account for the dead space in the car. Look in all of the places mentioned above. Turn the wipers on. Turn the AC and heat on. Does it all work? Is the head liner loose? Are their pry marks on the door paneling? On the Dash board? Is the ashtray full or was it recently emptied? Is the CD holder full of CD’s? Look in the trunk. Look where the spare goes. Look in the actual trunk portion of the car that lifts up.

SEARCHING YARDS AND RESIDENCES
For the purpose of this article, searching means after the fact, when any gunplay is done, and you have ample time on your hands. This does not pertain to any area that is not fully secured and under your control.

As mentioned , you can see that is is nearly impossible to search every rock tree and bush. So you play the odds. Try to look, listen, and feel. Look for patterns of travel. Look for dead grass, or trimmed bushes. Look for disturbed dirt. Look for loose bricks. Look for missing cobwebs.  Listen for footsteps that sound different, or for the section of fence that sounds hollow. Or sounds dull if everything else sounds hollow.  Feel for the floral foam brick, or the loose capstone.  Divide the yard into a grid. Go through methodically and systematically. DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING, VERIFY EVERYTHING. Open the lawnbird control panel on the house. Turn the sprinklers on. Turn the hose on.

Inside of the house, account for every inch of space. Look for things that don’t fit, are not original, or were recently or frequently moved. Look for grooves and wear patterns in paint. Listen. Knock on walls, Knock on floors. Get out a stethoscope. Feel the wall texture. Turn on the sinks. Feel the pipes below while the sink is on. Is water draining where it should? Feel the ductwork with the AC or heat on.  Is air moving? If not, VERIFY why not. Do not assume.  Imagine objects are made of 1” cubes. You need to verify what each cube is or is not either by touch or sight. By both if possible. Think of a book case. This means everything within the edges of that book case is on a 1” grid. The books. The space behind the books. The shelves. Under the shelves. The wall behind it and the floor under it.  Open each book, not just one or two. When looking at containers of things, do the same thing. 1“ cubes. You can’t verify them all by looking at it from the outside. Dump them out if need be.  The person playing mouse went to great lengths to make everything as boring as possible, as disgusting as possible. They forgot to flush the toilet intentionally. They clean all their fish in the same pile for a reason.  Coincidences do not exist when you are searching for something. Get out a tape measure. Measure the ceiling height. Measure the wall length. If something doesn’t ad up, VERIFY it. Account for all structural dead space both in the house and in the objects in them.

Be mindful also of what people are searching for and what looters need. Right now, the bottom of a bucket of rice may be a good spot to hide a few coins. Food theft has not started yet. Likewise, a computer printer that may be stolen is not a wise place to hide said coins. But six months post-crunch, when the printer is a paper weight because the grid has been down and rice is as valuable as gold, the priorities for hiding places may be reversed.

I hope this article helps open up some new thoughts for you on hiding places, and finding them. When you look at your house from a different perspective, you will find limitless storage. And the better you get at finding things, the better you will be at hiding things. Search objects, not just in them.  If you are the deer hunter, look for deer from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, not just when you are in your tree stand in the woods.  If you are the deer, don’t just hide in the woods. Hide in the bushes by the front window of the hunters house, where he will pass you by before he even realizes he should be looking for you.


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