by Mary Reed
Some years ago, we learned that a copy of Two For Joy, our protagonist’s second novel length adventure, had gone missing from a library out west. We have never been certain whether to consider the event a left-handed compliment from someone who could not bear to part with the book or an act intended to protest against the Michaelites’ belief in the Quadrinity rather than the Trinity.
However, Twofer’s strange disappearance turned my thoughts to thefts in general. Some have obvious motives, such as when Les Mis‘ Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread for his starving nephew. In such cases the loot soon disappears, and thus we can be fairly certain those responsible for Italian hijackings of lorry loads of dried cod (and in one case a haul of frozen swordfish and octopus) and the light-fingered Larries who ran off with over seventy lambs belonging to a Yorkshire farmer disposed of the evidence quickly, either on their own dinner table or someone else’s.
Similarly, whoever contrived to steal 32,000 pig ears from a pet food store in Denmark presumably had a ready market of dog owners keen to get a few cut-price treats for their pets–although one wonders how so many boxes could have been removed from the emporium without someone noticing the activity?
Occasionally apprehended culprits reveal unusual reasons for what might otherwise remain inexplicable thefts. Take a Russian case: two citizens went out one night and stole a set of traffic lights. Unfortunately, as they hauled them away the pair met a local administrative pooh-bah so were nabbed, as you might say, green, yellow and red handed. Their motive? It seems they intended to use the traffic lights to provide disco type illumination for a party.
In the same category we might put the Thai taxi driver caught stealing road signs. Apparently he planned to sell them to a scrap dealer in order to pay his gambling debts, having bet Korea would win the 2002 World Cup.
But for lovers of mystery fiction, it’s the unknown motives for odd thefts that are intriguing and perhaps might even inspire a short story or two. When a German monument to Stalin was dismantled in 1961, one of the workers involved kept an ear. The bronze auricular organ was subsequently displayed in a local history exhibition at a Berlin cafe, but disappeared and hasn’t been seen since.
Similarly, the head of Copenhagen Harbour’s famous Little Mermaid statue was returned anonymously about a month after it was removed. Perhaps those responsible were disappointed to discover it wasn’t the original tete, which was stolen in the mid 1960s and never recovered. Indeed, the sculpture seems to have become a regular target for vandalism since among other incidents one of her arms was sawn off in the early 1980s and about ten years ago explosives were used to knock her off her rock.
Then there was the strange disappearance of half a dozen mercury bulbs stolen from old style thermostats during renovation work on a building at Princeton University. Was the thief planning on poisoning someone with the mercury? Or how about the burglars who broke into a German kindergarten and, ignoring computers and the petty cash, ran off with nothing but Legos–including one used as a substitute leg for an listing alarm clock?
In closing, a favorite in the odd thefts category: a December heist of a donated Christmas tree –its decorations appropriately including strings of red lights–from a Dutch city’s bordello district. It hardly seems in the spirit of the season, but perhaps it was intended as a protest. It was certainly a well planned operation, seeing as the perpetrator(s) could be certain there’d be plenty of other goings-on in the area to distract possible witnesses from the tree-napping.