Ph.D thesis stolen in Santa Rosa remains missing

Image 1 of 2

The Bay Area man whose doctoral thesis was stolen from his car says he isn't bitter, but really wants his research returned.

"Re-doing it will be months of work for sure," said Miles Woodruff, 38, of Pleasant Hill.

"The real loss is the analysis I had done during the last few weeks."

Woodruff is a biological anthropologist, specializing in primate conservation.

For much of the past decade, he has hauled his research around Republic of Congo, studying the mandrill, a type of baboon.

"When I lived in the jungle, my computers blew up a lot, so I always had them thoroughly backed up," Woodruff told KTVU, "and always prepared for water damage or equipment failure."

Instead, it wasn't Africa, but Santa Rosa, where disaster struck.

On Sunday May 15th, Woodruff's car was broken into at a mult-level parking garage downtown.

Surveillance video from about 1 pm shows the thief, a slender man with dark hair, strolling out of the First Street garage with Woodruff's backpack.

Woodruff had hidden the backpack out of sight, under a car seat.

Inside were his wallet, plus his laptop, a hard drive and thumb drive, which he normally does not keep together.

But that day, he was participating in the Ironman triathlon.

"You're not allowed to put any of your valuables in your gear bag for the race," explained Woodruff, "so they were unfortunately all in the same place at the same time."

After the race he returned to find all three devices, gone.

Fortunately Woodruff's core thesis has already been submitted, but he lost all of his most current work.

Soon he will need to meet with advisors for feedback and revisions.

"Those corrections require that I go back through my data and use that data to edit it," said Woodruff.

"That's where the real challenge is going to be, all of my analysis is going to be extremely difficult to re-run."

The thief was oblivious to the academic havoc he created.

He went into the Santa Rosa Plaza mall nearby, purchased a skateboard with Woodruff's stolen credit card, and rode away on it.

A set of keys from the backpack turned up at a local homeless shelter, but there has been no sign of the 13 inch MacBook Pro.

"It's either in a pawn shop, it's in his house or it's floating around in the homeless community right now," said Woodruff, "so there's quite a sinking feeling there."

The black and white backpack has the words "Ironman Weymouth" across the back.

The hard drive is small, black, and nondescript.

Woodruff hopes someone spots them, possibly discarded as trash.

He's also grateful for the help he's received from Santa Rosa Police, who posted the surveillance video on social media, in an effort to identify the thief.

A Facebook post from SRPD has been viewed almost 25,000 times and generated more than 600 shares.

Woodruff says his work in conservation is helping him keep perspective about the whole experience.

"We lost the last wild male rhino in Malaysia this week," he noted, "so there's real problems in the world, and this is a setback but not worth my time to be mad about it."

Along with his PhD materials, Woodruff's devices also contained his work on an MBA he is earning at Durham University in the UK.

For his PhD, he is enrolled at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, which offers advanced degrees in sustainable development.

Anyone with information on the theft can call SRPD's non-emergency line at (707) 528-5222 and refer to case #19-6250.