Branden Deel is a two-bit thief with haute taste in television.
The former machinist has been trying to feed his heroin addiction by taking five-finger discounts on DVDs at big-box stores across central Ohio, especially pricey box sets of Downton Abbey.
Deel’s shopping sprees earned him the dismal accolade of Columbus’s Fugitive of the Week back in November when he got stuck with the “Downton Abbey Addict” moniker.
Deel is actually more of a Walking Dead fan himself, but his long list of contraband also includes DVDs of 24, NCIS, Grey’s Anatomy, Boardwalk Empire, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and True Blood, according to court records.
The bandit first struck on Jan. 1, 2014, when he ripped off a Meijer grocery store of a dozen box sets of Downton worth $560.88, according to a criminal complaint. Eight days later, Deel knocked off a Kroger store for $81.94 worth of DVDs and Blu-Ray films. Deel pleaded guilty and both cases were dismissed.
But on Jan. 20, Deel shoplifted again at Target in Columbus and trolleyed away with 13 box sets worth $624.87. This time Deel was sent to jail for 12 days and freed after paying a fine.
“He was originally arrested and convicted for the Downton Abbey thefts and then he was put on probation,” Bill R. Hedrick, first assistant city prosecutor for Columbus, Ohio, said, referring to a 180-day suspended jail sentence the times where Downton Abbey was the top title of Deel’s looting list. “Then I waited and I ran his name every morning, waiting for him to steal again.”
He didn’t have to wait long.
On Oct. 12 of this year Deel snatched up 14 DVDs worth $655.86 at a Meijer grocery store in Columbus before “reportedly jumping into the rear passenger side window of a getaway car driven by a female accomplice,” according to the incident report.
On Oct. 15, 2014, Deel made off with 18 DVDs worth $395.83 from a Kroger before escaping by riding off in a “blue Audi” bearing “temporary plates,” according to the incident report. Later, on Oct. 20, 2014, Deel stole another Downton box set from a Wal-Mart worth $64.96.
A haul at a Columbus-based Kroger on Oct. 28 also tallied $277.83, including: San Andreas, Shrek, Jurassic World, and animated titles including Barney: Halloween Party. On Nov. 23, Deel grabbed 22 DVDs from a Giant Eagle store worth $516.78.
After going on the lam for the past two months for breaking probation by stealing again, Deel was arrested on Thursday in Upper Arlington, Ohio.
“He was caught in an area that would be the Downton Abbey area of Columbus,” first assistant city prosecutor Hedrick quipped.
Deel is being held in Franklin County jail after a municipal judge set bail at $3,000, or $1,000 for each his three pending theft of DVD and Blu-Ray theft court cases.
Deal called his mom, Gail, on Saturday from jail, expressing remorse.
“‘This isn’t me. I need help,’” Gail Deel told The Daily Beast her incarcerated son said during the phone chat. “‘I’ve got to the lowest point of my life. I don’t know what else to do.’”
Gail said her son was stealing DVDs to sell them for cash that he used to buy drugs.“The only reason he picked those is they were the most expensive movies there,” she said. “He probably never watched one of those Downton Abbey discs once in his life.”
Deel’s mom insisted that he was trying to get clean while he was on probation.
“He was on his way, doing good again,” she said. “All the stuff about Downton Abbey was from stuff he stole a year ago and would sell to Game Stops around town. But he already served his time.”
With him living at home and starting much needed rehab, Gail said her son was bouncing back to the caring, loving young man that few could see.
Then Jessica Deel got out of jail.
“Here comes his wife and two days later my debit card is stolen and several hundred dollars are taken out of my bank account,” Gail said.
Branden and Jessica Deen were back on smack in no time, squatting at an abandoned home in Columbus when they weren’t beating the winter cold behind the wheel of his mom’s 2003 Buick she said they stole.
While laying low from the warrant for his arrest, Branden would pop into the local library and use its computer to post on Facebook.
“I cant take much more,” he wrote on September 23. “I really cant.gunna end up doing something bad if I dont catch a break soon.cant keep living like this.tried doing all the right things.and nothing is working. I dont know what else to do.”
Two weeks earlier, the lack of shelter and the unforgiving weather were enough for him to plead for help despite being on the lam.
“OMG... It's so cold out here...me and Jess are pretty damn cold...wheres all the people who said they had our back no matter what. Where are y'all. Just one of y'all...damn it... We need help.”
Much of Deel’s timeline is filled with a blend of Tony Montana gangster homage and also motivational nuggets meant to inspire sobriety.
Not a year ago, before he became homeless, Deel’s life was less complicated, given what appears to be a carefree Friday night.
“Left work at 5...vaqaros by 515... drunk at 7here it is 915 an shit faced pissin in a urnaual... yeap… Fuck it fridat.”
A selfie in front of a jail seemed to be a badge of honor. Maybe a pledge to put life behind bars in the rear view mirror from now on.
Meantime, Jessica Deel was also trying to figure life out.
The couple (each calls the other by the fond referent “the love of my life” and take family photos with Deel’s daughter from his previous marriage) got married in what looks to be a low-key city hall affair.
They seemed happy, and Branden Deel said as much.
“fig we got married a week from now a year ago.so might as well use the pic from the day we said our vowel s,” he wrote.
In one post from last year, Jessica Deel contemplates how life would have been had they not been forced to bury their son.
“I dream n imagine what he would look like and how much different life would be for Branden Deel and I if we still had our beautiful baby boy.”
Gail Deel was at the hospital and remembers Jaxson’s last moments.
“He just about died in my arms and I handed him over to his mom just three minutes before he took his last breath,” she said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through.”
The loss hit Jessica especially hard.
“My life will never be the same again. I never got to experience being a mother like i was supposed to. Im not a mother at all anymore, instead i held my son tonight while he took his last breathe and his heart was no longer beating. Never in my life have i experienced so much heartache and pain,” she posted back in January 2012.
Gail said the baby’s death sent her own baby back to heroin.
“Mom I just want to be numb,” she recalls him telling her.
His habit continued. And the mother attempted and failed to compel a rehab facility to take in her son. “One of the places I took him to in Columbus tested him and said, ‘He wasn’t high enough,’ so they couldn’t accept him.
“I asked them: ‘What do you need, me to stay in the waiting room and stick a needle in him and then he will be high enough?’”
This wasn’t what his mother planned. Rotating doors of rehab clinics, counting the cash Deel siphoned from her purse from one infrequent stay to the next.
“He’s a Southern boy,” Gail Deel said of her son’s Tennessee and Virginia roots, before relocating to Ohio. And all that country was hardened when he started up with Jessica Deel.
Jessica is back behind bars in the same Franklin County jail as her hubby, charged with stealing the Buick and hit with another charge of criminal complicity.
Gail Deel said her son is addicted to his wife as much as heroin.
“Everybody’s kind of given up on them and they don’t trust him and they don’t like his wife and they don’t know why he won’t walk away from her—because once they’re back again their life goes into the crapper.”
She said she gave Branden some tough medicine.
“I told him, ‘You’re just not good together. You need to take care of yourself and she needs to take care of herself.’
“He agreed. He’s at the end of his road and he knows it.”
In a way, her son’s incarceration has been a blessing.
“I’ve been going to bed every night praying that he gets arrested and gets put in jail,” she said. “Now I know he’s alive and not overdosed somewhere and it’s warm and he has a place to sleep.”
The mother has since been appealing to a higher power to help her son to find a way to kick heroin.
“My prayers now are for the court system to set him into a rehab place where they’re going to show and teach him that this isn’t the life you want to live. You can get off this and end the cycle you’ve been on.”