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Scott Seal, his wife Kellee and newborn daughter Madelyn in Newport Beach on Wednesday. (KEVIN CHANG / Daily Pilot / January 8, 2014)

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Scott and Kellee Seal had just returned home when they realized a bag was missing from their car.

The couple hadn't noticed at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, where they'd rushed earlier that evening thinking Kellee was about to give birth to their first child, a daughter.

It was Dec. 29, after all, the due date. But whatever the mom-to-be had been feeling proved to be a false alarm. Doctors sent the Seals home.

Once home, Scott couldn't find the diaper bag they'd packed with the baby's first outfit and other essentials. The car had been broken into at the hospital.

He called Newport Beach police, and the responding officer told him someone had used a tool to punch out a car door lock.

The bag packed for the baby was missing along with three iPads, a blow dryer and a pair of earrings that Scott had planned to give his wife.

The burglars had taken everything down to the baby clothes Kellee had shopped for and a gift for the new baby — a small, stuffed lamb.

"All of it gone. We just couldn't believe it," Scott said. "It couldn't have come at a worse time, or in a worse environment. At a hospital delivering your first baby? That's the lowest of lows, especially around the holidays."

In their report to police, the couple detailed about 30 missing items worth about $9,000.

Around 10:30 that night, Scott called police again.

As an officer had suggested, Scott had activated "Find My iPad," a mobile app from Apple that lets owners track their devices using GPS.

He saw one of the missing iPads ping briefly from an address in Alhambra.

*

A clue points north

Two days later, on the morning of New Year's Eve, Newport police Det. Tracy McKenzie called Scott to tell him police were about the check out his tip.

It was the first chance McKenzie and his partner, Det. Brandon Rodriguez, had to drive up to the Alhambra duplex where the digital map had pinpointed the iPad.

"We got the tip, and we just ran with it," McKenzie said. "It was a hot case, and we knew, 'OK, the iPads are pinging there now.'"

But he made sure to temper the Seals' expectations. There was a good chance the police wouldn't find anything. With just a ping, the detectives couldn't justify a search.

McKenzie wasn't even expecting to locate the thief. He had hoped at least to find someone who bought the stolen property off Craigslist.

About 7:30 a.m., the two detectives knocked on the Alhambra home's door.