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Now for something completely different…
You can make money or be frugal in a thousand ways that don’t involve unethical behavior and jail time, so you won’t ever see theft recommended here. On the other hand, it is entertaining to read about the weirder things people have stolen, starting with my own true story…
Our bedroom door was stolen.
A few weeks after buying a condo in Tucson, Arizona, we arrived at our new home to find that the bedroom door was gone. The hinge pins were lying on the carpet.
Our best guess is that one of the contractors doing post-inspection repairs damaged the door and stole it to hide the evidence. But that’s just a guess, so feel free to share your speculations.
Thieves usually want cash or something that can be quickly sold for cash. How, then, do we explain some of the really weird things people steal?
For example, more than one person has woken up to find their entire front lawn stolen. Then there are snake thefts and maple syrup heists. Here are a few details on those and other examples of the weirdest things people steal. We start with one of the more ironic thefts…
1. Burglar Alarms
Two pallets of security alarms were stolen from a truck near Cambridge, England in November. The driver was sleeping in the front of the truck at the time of the theft, and apparently did not have anything to warn him that his cargo was being broken into… you know, like an alarm.
2. Surveillance Cameras
Geesh, you install cameras to prevent theft and you just give thieves something else to steal. Sadly, theft of surveillance cameras is apparently common.
But the thing about stealing real security cameras is that the entire theft is usually captured on video. That’s what happened in a recent theft of security cameras at an Arkansas church. And check out the perfect closeup of the face of a thief in Tacoma, Washington who stole security cameras from a school.
Who would want 2,000 boxes of barbecued eels? For that matter, who would have guessed that they were worth a million dollars? But that’s the value placed on the eels stolen in Elizabeth, N.J by three men.
Fortunately they did not slip away (the thieves or the eels). An eel-buying sting operation led to their arrest three months after the theft.
Thieves in Cedar Rapids, Iowa stole six basketballs from a wheelchair basketball team. The news report notes that the balls cost more than $80 each, which sounds like another crime to me.
It isn’t just basketballs that are targeted by thieves. In Hamilton, Ontario a beach ball was stolen, and near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania a team of thieves stole 8,000 golf balls. What can we say except (wait for it)… those thieves really have balls.
Big nut heists are apparently common in California, where last year more than 30 truckloads of walnuts, worth millions of dollars, were stolen in the first few months of the year. To combat the crimes 150 farmers got together with law enforcement to find solutions.
Thefts of almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, and walnuts are reportedly becoming more common, and they are difficult crimes to stop. Mike Boudreaux, Tulare County Sheriff, points out that it’s easy to arrest someone when drugs are found in their vehicle, but says, “I pull over 30,000 lbs. of pistachios, I have to prove that those are stolen, otherwise the guy goes on his way.”
6. Caskets (And Worse)
There are degrees of weirdness when it comes to casket thefts. For example, a casket stolen in Wichita, Kansas was going to be thrown away after the body in it had been cremated. Maybe in this case the thief was simply into recycling.
The theft of several caskets in Union, South Carolina was a bit weirder.You might think they were stolen to be sold on some casket black market to people who want to bury their loved ones on the cheap. But if that was the case, why did the thieves also steal 30 bottles of embalming fluid?
In San Antonio, Texas, a casket was left behind and a woman’s corpse was stolen from it while in a funeral home. Eight months later police had still not solved the case, but the deceased woman’s ex-boyfriend was a person of interest.
7. Maple Syrup
Who would have guessed that Maple Syrup is worth 13 times as much as crude oil? That explains why someone might want to steal it. But the thieves who stole from the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers’ strategic reserve were truly ambitious. They took six million pounds, worth about $18 million wholesale. That’s about 100 tractor-trailer loads.
Making the case even stranger, the theft was apparently not just about making a profit. The Federation has been a legal cartel since 2002, monopolizing the maple syrup market. The thieves may be “free-market renegades” who view the Federation’s efforts as a “communist program.”
Hair theft is actually pretty common. Recently, thieves stole thousands of dollars worth of hair from two beauty shops in Memphis, Tennessee. A Maryland salon had $30,000 worth of hair extensions stolen. And the theft of $8,000 worth of hair from a Little Rock, Arkansas salon was caught on camera.
Human hair can be sold for big bucks. But it’s less clear what’s happening with the hair cut and stolen from miniature horses in Gloucester in England. According to police, it might be used to make jewelry, or in wigs for theatrical productions.
The scariest hair thefts are perhaps those reported in Venezuela, where thieves trap women and cut off their hair. It became a common enough crime that police had to start a special operation to combat these attacks.
9. Tide Detergent
Tide laundry detergent is commonly stolen. The high price, popularity, and recognizable logo make it an underground currency of sorts. In Maryland it has been found in large quantities in the homes of drug dealers. In Oregon it’s used to buy heroin and meth, and one thief stole more than $25,000 worth of the detergent before he was caught.
A police officer in Kentucky says “It’s the item to steal,” because “There’s no serial numbers and it’s impossible to track.” On the street it sells for about half of the retail value.
Who would have guessed that, by value, cheese was the food most stolen worldwide in 2010? Shoplifting and employee theft account for most losses, but sometimes there are also larger organized thefts.
For example, “cheese pirates,” as they’re called by Wisconsin Cheese Mart’s Vince Christian, made off with 20,000 pounds of the stuff in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
In Marshfield, Wisconsin, when thieves stole 41,000 pounds of parmesan cheese, the local Fox news station reported that “Authorities believe the intention may have been to re-sell the cheese after it was stolen.” Really? They didn’t just have some spaghetti at home waiting for a sprinkle?
11. Ice Cream
New York has a problem with ice cream thefts. Apparently thieves are stealing Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s and Talenti ice cream from drugstores to sell to local bodegas, typically for ten percent of retail. In one shoplifting incident over $1,600 in ice cream was stolen.
Fortunately ice cream thieves don’t always get away with it. When an ice cream truck was stolen with the help of kids in St. Louis, Missouri, the community rallied and, with the help of social media, located the stolen vehicle a few hours later.
Beef may be the most shoplifted item in America. The rising cost is cited as the primary reason, and some stores are considering putting anti-theft devices on their meats.
For thieves who want to sell the beef, a shoplifted package or two is not enough. They need the whole cow. That’s why cattle rustling is increasing, especially in Texas and Oklahoma.
13. Bull Semen
Cheese, ice cream, beef — there seems to be no end to valuable bovine products worth stealing. For example, in Turlock, California, $50,000 worth of bull semen was stolen from a truck. It was enough to impregnate 1,000 cows.
And then there was the Easter Sunday theft of $70,000 in bull semen from an unlocked barn in Minnesota. A local news reporter did the math for us — perhaps over a pint at the pub — and calculated that $70,000 in bull semen would almost fill four pint glasses.
Sadly, “pet flipping” by thieves is popular in many cities, and dogs are the primary target. Thieves either steal the dogs outright or claim to be the owner when they see “found pet” ads on Craigslist. They then sell them for a quick profit.
If you want to be safe from these thieves, get a mutt, because purebred dogs are most often targeted. According to the New York Daily News, “Pit bulls or pit bull mixes were the most stolen dog breed in 2014,” when 637 dogs were stolen in the US.
We might hope that this is one thing that wouldn’t be stolen too often, but alas, wheelchair theft seems to be common according to this writer’s Google search. Examples:
In November a Vietnam veteran’s wheelchair was stolen from his home in Ogden, Utah.
Also in the same month, a motorized wheelchair was stolen on the street in Brooklyn, leaving its owner stranded.
In Santa, Ana, California, a thief stole a wheelchair from a four-year-old born without legs (fortunately the chair was recovered after a public plea for help).
16. Pregnancy Tests
Small things are more easily shoplifted than large items, so perhaps we should not be surprised by a report of home pregnancy tests being commonly stolen at Walmart. Let’s just hope the results of the tests are mostly negative.
17. Teeth Whitening Strips
According to a National Retail Federation’s Organized Crime Survey, among the most common items stolen from retail stores are teeth whitening strips. At least these thieves will have nice white smiles for their mug shots.
When a thief stole 18 pythons from a pet store in Omaha, Nebraska (one worth $5,000), he at least considered their dietary needs; he also stole $1,500 worth of frozen rats. Unfortunately, when the rats thawed out they smelled like, uh, dead rats, so the thief threw them out. Shortly afterward he was arrested.
Pythons seem to be a favorite of snake thieves, but when a man stole a python in St. Petersburg, Florida he had a unique way of sneaking it out of the store; he put it in his pants. The owner of the store says the man, who was caught in the act this time, had stolen snakes and lizard before, possibly selling them on Craigslist.
At Columbia University student theft of Nutella from the dining hall became such a big problem in 2013 that the school went through $5,000 worth of the chocolate-hazelnut spread the first week after they introduced it.
In Germany thieves stole 6,500 jars of Nutella, a total of 11,000 pounds, worth about $20,000. That’s just (wait for it)… nutty.
Is the bible is the most stolen book in the world? That’s what people often say (even CNN has reported this claim), but there doesn’t seem to be any definitive data. In any case it’s easy to find news reports of stolen bibles, ranging from 200-year-old bibles stolen in Scotland to a recent theft of $500 worth of bibles from a christian bookstore in West Springfield, Massachusetts.
There was even a poll in which 7% of people in England admitted to stealing bibles from hotel rooms.
It was sad enough when 79,000 bottles of craft beer were stolen in Atlanta, Georgia. But then, when the beer was recovered, the brewery decided that, because they did not know how it had been handled by the thieves, they would have to throw away the beer. Ouch! Small comfort: In the end they sent it to a facility that converted it into ethanol fuel.
The Atlanta beer thieves were not caught with the recovered beer. But when more than 1,800 cases of beer were stolen in McHenry, Illinois, a suspect was caught and sentenced to three years in jail. It’s not clear what happened to the beer in that case.
Why were 17 vials of urine stolen from a health department building in Logan, Utah? Who knows? All 17 people whose samples had been taken submitted new samples, and the crime remains unexplained.
Stealing clean urine in order to pass a drug test makes more sense, although there are better and worse ways to do that. Example of a worse way: A daycare employee in South Carolina forced a child to pee in a cup in order to collect a clean urine sample for her son’s upcoming drug test.
That’s enough to piss you off, right? Don’t these thieves know you can simply buy clean urine online?
23. Chicken Wings
Stealing from employers is perhaps one of the most common crimes. In New York a father and son stole chicken wings worth more than $40,000 from the restaurant where they worked.
Two thieves in Georgia topped that with the theft of $65,000 in frozen chicken wings from a cold storage facility where they worked. They took the wings just prior to the Super Bowl, suggesting a they may have had a better “business plan” than the New York duo.
Then again, since in both cases the thieves were caught, perhaps it would have been better for them to chicken out and try a real business.
24. Police Uniforms
Why break into a police officer’s home? A thief in Durham, North Carolina apparently did it to steal police uniforms. Afterward, authorities reminded locals to ask for identification from police. Later, following the killing of two people, the uniforms were found in the murder suspects’ car.
25. Body Parts
In Bangkok, Thailand, a package headed for the U.S. was found to contain body parts stolen from a medical museum. The parts discovered included (if you’re ready for this): A heart, a baby’s foot, and an infant’s head. The package sender said he bought the items in a market because they were bizarre and he wanted to send them to friends. He was released without charges.
Theft of body parts is apparently not that uncommon, and a list of the most famous body parts stolen includes Benito Mussolini’s Brain, Napoleon’s Penis, and Anne Boleyn’s Heart.
Textbooks cost a fortune, so perhaps it’s not so weird that they’re stolen. But it’s a big problem. The University of Michigan warns, “theft and resale of textbooks has become an organized criminal activity on campus.,” and one law firm has a webpage devoted to what to do if you’re accused of textbook theft.
In the Los Angeles area Corey Frederick stole thousands of textbooks from local schools. He paid $200,000 in bribes to office workers, librarians, and others to help with the thefts, and he resold the books through his bookselling business. Amazon was one of his customers. In addition to receiving jail time, Frederick was ordered to pay the L.A. Unified School District $793,000 in restitution.
Book him Danno!
27. Manhole Covers
Recently there have been manhole covers stolen across Tucson, Arizona. And in New York thieves steal manhole covers that weigh up to 300 pounds. Why? Because they can be sold for scrap for up to $30 each when iron prices are high.
Manhole cover theft in China has become such a problem that authorities there are attaching GPS tracking devices to their covers.
I think I’ll watch my step when crossing the street!
Margaret Wells, a 76-year-old grandmother from Cosham, in England, had a life-sized replica of Steven Spielberg’s ET stolen from her home. Granddaughter Tia claimed “At night he comes to life,” and Wells said, “Maybe he’s actually gone home.”
But apparently ET’s adventure didn’t take him that far. Months later, when the Coast Guard went to recover a body that had been reported in the sea near Portsmouth, it turned out to be Wells’ ET replica. It had been roughed up and lost a finger, but “he still has a smile on his face” according to Wells.
Perhaps everything will be stolen at some point. And the 7,000 worms stolen in Horsham, Australia a couple years ago were reportedly worth a dollar each.
30. Cemetery Flowers
Stealing flowers from cemeteries is pretty low, and stealing them twice from a vet’s grave, as happened in Spring Valley, New York, seems especially bad.
Then there are the two woman in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania who celebrated their Easter holiday by stealing flowers from numerous graves. They were arrested.
Cemetery thieves in Hollister, California apparently figured the money wasn’t in the flowers. They broke into two cemeteries and threw the flowers on the ground to steal 120 vases instead.
31. Beach Sand
Yes, even sand can be valuable. Why else would thieves steal hundreds of truckload of beach sand in Jamaica? It’s suspected that the stolen sand was sold to resort hotels to improve their beaches.
32. A Ten-Ton Bridge
How did thieves in the Czech Republic steal a ten-ton bridge? They simply pretended that they were hired to demolish it and remove the train tracks in order to make room for a new bicycle path. They had forged papers with them, which were only discovered to be fake after the thieves were long gone with a lot of valuable metal.
It was recently reported that $3,920 worth of bras were stolen from a Victoria’s Secret store. That’s 68 bras at an average value of $58 each, which explains why these bras were targeted.
But humans thieves are not the only ones interested in bras. As reported by the Huffington Post, Norris regularly spent nights in Bristol, England stealing bras and other items from neighbors. Norris, by the way, has four feet and whiskers; he is a true cat burglar.
34. Front Lawn
A few years ago, Denise Thompson, of Edmonton, Alberta, came home from a trip to discover her entire front lawn was stolen. As it turned out, it was actually a mistake. A landscaping company was supposed to remove a lawn several blocks away but got the wrong address.
But the theft of a lawn in Lancashire, England was no mere mistake, and the whole operation was caught on camera. The two thieves, both middle-aged women, were so casual about the theft that, as they rolled up the sod and put it in their cars, they stopped for a cigarette break.
In Concord, California, an artificial lawn was stolen. The 79-year-old owner had recently spent thousands of dollars to replace her real grass with synthetic turf. Police say they hope this type of crime will not become a trend.
A live shark was stolen from a garden shed in England. The couple who owned it said it would be difficult for the thief to sell because it’s a rare type of shark. It seems it would be a rare type of crime too, but a man stole a live shark from an aquarium in Lynbrook NY by sneaking it out under his jacket. He was caught shortly after also buying a $300 eel with a stolen credit card.
An ultralight plane stolen from a small airport in Pennsylvania was probably flown away, according to its owner. It could be started with a pull-cord, so it wasn’t highly secure.
But sometimes even big planes get stolen. A Boeing 727 was stolen in Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Angola in 2003. At one time the plane had carried passengers for American Airlines. The thieves taxied and took off without clearance and disappeared over the ocean.
General Mastin Robeson, commander of U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa at the time, says, “It was never [clear] whether it was stolen for insurance purposes… by the owners, or whether it was stolen with the intent to make it available to unsavory characters, or whether it was a deliberate concerted terrorist attempt. There was speculation of all three.”
37. McDonald’s Monopoly Pieces
Remember those McDonald’s promotions where you had to collect Monopoly pieces to win prizes? Sadly, the game was not entirely fair. Jerome Jacobson stole many of the winning pieces. He worked for Simon Marketing Inc., the company that made the game pieces.
It’s estimated that over the years he stole 50 to 60 crucial pieces, selling them for enough money to buy homes and cars for himself. He started by stealing just a few valuable pieces, but by the end of his six-year scheme he was (it has to be said) monopolizing the best pieces.
Awards claimed with the stolen pieces included cars, $10,000 prizes, and even the million-dollar prize. Jacobson spent three years in a Federal prison when he was caught.
38. Nuclear Weapons
The bad news: The attempted theft of nuclear weapons and/or related materials is common. Smithsonian.com reports that “Since 1993, there have been 419 cases of smuggled or stolen nuclear materials worldwide.”
The good news: Thieves often fail. That same Smithsonian report lists ten of the many “nuclear thefts gone wrong.”
The rest of the news: The Air Force failed a stolen nuclear weapon test in 2013. The test involved a simulated takeover of a nuclear missile silo, and the team tested showed an “inability to effectively respond to a recapture scenario.”
39. Giant Inflatable Gorillas
Sure, just about anything can be stolen, but who would think that the theft of giant inflatable gorillas would be so common? There was the 25-foot inflatable gorilla stolen near Seattle, Washington from a shopping center and the 30-foot-high gorilla stolen from a car dealership in Simi Valley, California.
Not enough to constitute a tend? Well, add to those two thefts the 30-foot inflatable gorilla stolen from a church in Lincoln, Nebraska, the giant gorilla stolen from a car dealer in La Crete, Alberta, and the attempted theft of a big purple inflatable gorilla from a gym in Motueka, New Zealand. The owner of the latter says, “I think beer was involved,” which might explain the attempted theft and the lack of success.
40. Dog Poop
What is it about inflatable things that makes them so irresistible to thieves? A giant inflatable dog poop was stolen in Torrelodones, Spain. Local authorities had installed the nine-foot-high poop in the town square to remind people to clean up after their pets. So which is weirder, installing a giant poop in the middle of town or stealing it?
A thief in Riverside, California stole real dog poop. He didn’t intend to, but a local resident, after having a number of packages stolen, left a special package for the thief. It was “filled a stinky surprise from his Great Dane and her friends.”
Tell us below if you have any weird-theft stories (but let’s avoid suggestions on how to use theft as a form of frugality).