Ocean Whitaker, 5, of Fishtown, delivers hand-drawn notes to victims of the Binary Bandits in East Kensington.

When 5-year-old Ocean Whitaker first heard about a family friend having a number stolen from the front of her home in East Kensington, she was admittedly a little nervous.

Her mother, Kelly Hough, delicately told her about the people now known as the “Binary Bandits” — at least two thieves who have stolen 0s and 1s from the front of dozens of neighborhood homes. And while Ocean’s family lives in Fishtown, the girl realized her house has two 1s on it and might be targeted, too.

Kelly wanted her daughter to translate the fear into something constructive. “What do you want to do?” she asked her. Ocean settled on drawing a picture for her family friend that read: “Sorry your number was stolen. Here is some love to cheer you up!”

But Ocean wanted to use her stickers and deliver a little love to everyone whose numbers were stolen in East Kensington. So on Tuesday afternoon, Kelly helped the 5-year-old make 30 color copies of her letter. They made their way over to the neighborhood where most of the numbers were stolen, and started taping the letters on doors.

“I just wanted to spread love,” Ocean told Billy Penn Thursday afternoon while delivering her second batch of pictures. “So I gave her a card.”

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Now, Ocean — whose hobbies are dancing, art and music — has also fallen in love with delivering, well, love. On her way to the neighborhood Thursday, she pointed out a house with a missing number and begged her mother to drive her back later to make sure they got a card. And the same afternoon, decked out in magenta Ugg boots, a cactus shirt and feathers in her hair, Ocean bounced from house to house with her pictures and a roll of packing tape.

Even though the pictures were copied, every one is unique to Ocean. They’re decorated with stickers of hearts and donuts and cheeseburgers. And each one was taped to a home that was missing a number.

The saga of the Binary Bandits started early last month when residents in East Kensington started noticing the 0s and 1s were missing from the address markers on the front of their homes. It started out with just a few, and since then dozens of homes have had numbers stolen.

Two people — a man and a woman — were caught on home surveillance systems taking the numbers and, though those videos were widely circulated, no arrests have been made. Even after the bizarre story made national news, the thefts in the neighborhood have continued. Sgt. Jason Forsythe at the 26th District said police are still investigating as “quite a few” tips and surveillance videos continue to trickle in.

The thefts have been largely concentrated on the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Amber Street, the 2000 and 2100 blocks of East Susquehanna Avenue and the 2000 and 2100 blocks of East Dauphin Street, with some homes on the periphery of that area now being targeted. Some in the area have gone so far as to tape the numbers on their homes with painter’s tape or cover their numbers in Vaseline.

Ocean Whitaker, 5, of Fishtown, stands on a stoop after delivering the homeowner a hand-drawn note.
Ocean Whitaker, 5, of Fishtown, stands on a stoop after delivering the homeowner a hand-drawn note.

So that’s where Ocean and her mother made the deliveries on both Tuesday and Thursday afternoons this week. At each house they could find with a missing number, Ocean walked up to the front of the home to attach her letter to the house. On Thursday afternoon on Susquehanna Street, resident Danielle Rivera was just walking home as Ocean was taping the picture to her front door.

“It completely warms my heart to see that,” Rivera said.

While we walked through the neighborhood, Ocean wondered aloud why someone would go to such lengths to steal numbers from other people’s homes. Maybe they’re making a necklace, she wondered. “A really big one?”

All she knows is what her and her mom have talked about. Kelly told her: “We don’t know why they’re taking them. But what do you think the bandits are missing in their lives?”

Ocean didn’t miss a beat.


Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.