Everyone’s heard of the usual kinds of theft. There are lucrative robberies, like vehicle and identity theft, and the more commonplace pilfering, like shoplifting. According to The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, more than $13 billion of goods are robbed from various retailers across the United States every year. That’s more than $35 million of stolen goods per day.
The Center for Retail Research says that women are more likely to steal cosmetics, clothes, jewelry, and perfume. Men go for the electronics, especially TVs and power tools.
However, people steal far stranger things than vanity and entertainment items. Odder still are the extreme lengths to which people will go to take what’s not theirs. Each US state has its own eccentricities that make it unique, especially when it comes to what people are stealing and why.
In 2012, Washington was among the first states (tied with Colorado) to legalize recreational marijuana. However, there was a teensy problem that nobody foresaw. It became nearly impossible to keep a 420-milepost sign from being stolen.
For those who don’t already know, the number 420 has a special significance in the folklore of cannabis users. Some say it originated as a police code for weed-related incidents, and others hold that the tradition began with a group of high schoolers in the 1970s who met after school to smoke at 4:20 PM every day.
Regardless of its origins, it’s a popular time of day to smoke weed, especially on April 20. Whether it’s considered lucky or just an excuse to get high, “420” has become notorious. Since 2012, at least 608 of these signs have had to be replaced. Another common signpost that goes missing is the number 69 (for obvious reasons).
It’s a financial burden on taxpayers and a safety hazard. Mile markers are supposed to be geographical references in emergency situations, but Washington citizens just can’t seem to help themselves. This silly prank can lead to a misdemeanor charge and even 90 days in a cell. Sometimes, a fine of $1,000 is issued, but that’s barely enough to cover the costs of replacing the sign.
These incentives to obey the law are not enough to deter people. The highways in Washington have 8,245 mile markers, and 200 are still missing as of January 2019.
The Washington State Department of Transportation has implemented a quirky comeback to combat these juvenile hooligans. Instead of being listed as “420,” a sign will read “419.9,” for example. It seems to work some of the time.
Steven Spielberg’s movie Poltergeist makes it perfectly clear that messing with Native American burial grounds can only end badly. Not to mention that it’s heartless toward Native Americans while simultaneously stripping away history’s rich tapestry.
Still, people are nonchalantly digging up bones and artifacts for illegal profit, and Missouri is brimming with undiscovered archaeological sites. One only needs to dig a hole.
Since the 1800s, families have gathered on lazy Sunday afternoons to sift through Native American burial grounds for treasures to put on their mantles. Sadly, in modern-day Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, this macabre tradition lives on with a group of people called “twiggers.”
This is a nickname for drug addicts, commonly called “tweakers,” who “dig” up anything of value they find. These precious stolen artifacts are often traded as currency for drugs.
This connection between looters and addicts has been noted by experts for many years. Sergeant Kevin Glaser of the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force said, “We’ve gone into meth houses, and we’ll literally find tubs of arrowheads.”
Looters know that a high-quality arrowhead, like a Dalton point from around 8000 BC, is usually priced at around $200. The lesser arrowheads can bring in an easy $20, if not more. One time, a human skull even showed up for sale at a local flea market.
New Mexico has a terrible problem with porch pirates. According to an online survey by Blink, a home security company, residents of New Mexico are nearly six times more likely to have their Christmas gifts stolen from their doorsteps than people in other US states.
Before the holiday season hits, November brings us Package Theft Awareness Month, but that does little to deter the package bandits. Boxes are often stolen immediately after they hit the front porch.
The only way citizens can seem to combat this problem is by catching the thieves on home surveillance systems. Officer Simon Drobik of the Albuquerque Police said that New Mexicans are taking matters into their own hands.
People in the community lure thieves with dummy packages placed on the owners’ porches. Once their surveillance catches the person in the act, the thief is apprehended. To make matters a tad more bone-chilling, the cameras are starting to pick up more of these porch pirates with actual weapons, especially guns.
Logging is a $12.8 billion industry, so it’s no wonder that timber theft is a problem. In Kentucky, landowners don’t often live full-time on their properties. For example, people will spend the summer months at their vacation homes only to return to their ravaged, bulldozed properties devoid of trees.
There are sophisticated operations that set out to do just this. They harvest hundreds of trees in a month or two and leave behind a tornado zone of stumps and broken limbs.
Perhaps the reason that timber theft is so popular is because law enforcement isn’t willing to lift a finger to investigate claims. They tell the victims to file civil suits against illegal loggers and leave it at that. But this can take over a decade to come to a resolution.
Many can’t afford this course of action, so no claims are filed. As no data is collected about the thefts, nobody knows how many trees are being stolen in Kentucky. A single tree can be sold to a sawmill without documentation for thousands of dollars. Once the timber is sawed up and pieced out, it’s completely untraceable.
It’s no wonder that a state dubbed “Bike City USA” would have a bike theft crisis. Portland has spent millions to improve biking infrastructure, but if bikes are trending, so are their thieves.
Oregon even has a word for them: frequent fliers. The thieves are given this nickname because experts think stolen bikes will pass through the same couple dozen people over and over again. Kevin Demer, deputy district attorney in the felony property crimes unit for Multnomah County, said, “The 80–20 rule applies—20 percent of the criminals doing 80 percent of the damage.”
The Portland Police Bureau database has 13,000 records of bike theft that resulted in an arrest only 2 percent of the time. Most people don’t even bother to let the police know.
The problem is that it’s almost impossible to catch a bike thief and even more problematic to have one prosecuted. Even if the police find someone riding a bike with a serial number that’s been reported stolen, there’s no way to prove that the rider knew it was pinched.
There’s even a place that’s way off the beaten track in Portland called the “bicycle boneyard.” It’s basically a massive heap of discarded bicycle parts and rusty tools under a freeway. Frequent fliers lurk here so that the traffic masks the whirring of their tools as they repair, repaint, and strip stolen bikes for parts.
Rustlers are still at large in Texas, the nation’s largest beef producer. An uncastrated bull, which is an adult male bovine, fetches nearly $3,000. The rest, from steers to heifers, are worth about $1,000 apiece.
Cattle are walking price tags in Texas, and that makes them attractive to thieves. So the Texas Legislature put a different sort of price tag on bovines. If you steal even fewer than 10 head of cattle in Texas, it’s equivalent to 10 years in state prison.
When rustlers steal livestock, they are committing third-degree felonies. In 2014, the jail time for thieves added up to 240 years. In January 2019, William “Willie” Rittenbaugh was held in custody at the Hill County, Texas, jail in lieu of $1 million bond for just stealing some cows.
The theft of Colorado license plates is a strange crime that’s dramatically on the rise. It went from being a mere 20 in 2017 to a whopping 300 pilfered plates in 2018.
Denver is a hot zone. Every day, license plates are disappearing like hotcakes. To combat this crime, the Denver Police Department is giving away specialized screws to make license removal a tad more challenging.
What’s frustrating for the thief, however, is also a pain for the owners. These citizens now enjoy the hassle of having to buy specialized removal tools or go to the police station for assistance when they need to remove their plates.
People steal them for various reasons—from having a suspended license to driving a stolen car. It could just be that they don’t have car insurance.
It’s the massive uptick in license plate theft that’s alarming. For Coloradans, it’s probably a good idea to check plates before heading to work in the morning because people are getting pulled over for missing plates more frequently than ever before.
New Jersey has one of the worst opioid abuse problems in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, New Jersey’s 2016 death rate from overdosing on heroin and prescription painkillers was 16 deaths per 100,000 residents, which topples the average national rate.
When there’s an addiction crisis like this, rampant theft follows. In New Jersey, stolen metals are helping to fund people’s addictions. The State Commission of Investigation witnessed drug addicts stealing metal from the same scrapyard as often as five times in a single day.
Among other things, the illicit trade in stolen metals is costing the taxpayers a fortune to replace wiring and manhole covers as well as to fix electrical power. People are ripping metal straight from cell phone towers, power stations, and even graveyards so that they can sell it for a quick buck to pawnshops, scrap metal yards, and secondhand stores.
According to the State Commission of Investigation, the owners of these stores are encouraging the behavior of these obvious thieves. Currently, neither criminal background checks nor documentation of where the metal came from are required. So, if some copper wire is marked as belonging to the local government or telecommunications companies, it’s accepted without question.
The American Kennel Club says that “pet thefts” are on the rise, but it should really be called kidnapping. For most people, pets are cherished members of their families. Some will even admit that they are more valued than certain human family members.
So it’s especially tragic when a state is forced to dramatically increase the penalty for stealing pets because the offenses are so rampant. The state law in New York for stealing, harming, or transporting someone’s pet hadn’t been updated in almost 50 years. However, New York recently increased the maximum fine from a mere $200 to $1,000 for stealing Fido.
Small dog breeds are especially targeted by pet thieves in New York. They are the most sought-after dogs in New York City, where the living quarters of the residents are more cramped than most places. A little Yorkie, for example, can be easily sold for a couple grand.
Pets are being snatched from owners in the park and at their apartments and even straight from pet stores.
In Hawaii, Spam heists are a thing. A beloved staple on the islands, Spam can be found in the cupboard of almost every resident. It’s used in all kinds of dishes, from “Spam fried rice” to “Spam and eggs.”
Its popularity soared during World War II when regular meat was harder to acquire. But today, the tradition (some say obsession) lives on. Hawaiians eat more Spam per capita than any other state—that is, over 2 million kilograms (5 million lb) of Spam every year.
The prevalence of this beloved “mystery meat” could be the reason that it has become a form of currency in Hawaii’s underground. At a couple to a few dollars per can, stealing a couple of 12-packs could help an addict get his next fix. Hawaiian grocery stores now put cans of Spam under lock and key. When there’s a demand this high, a black market will always form around it.