The Boy Scouts in St. Louis have gone from selling Christmas trees this year to playing detective.
The person they and police are tracking is a woman in a red Dodge Durango who has stolen trees from their lot during the night every year for the past three years. This year the woman stole her annual tree and then came back and filched a second tree.
“If she’d taken one tree, we’d shake our head and forget about it,” said Mark Wilbur, the retiring scoutmaster who has been head of the troop for the past 25 years. But he said that her greedy act of coming back for another tree is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“This is contradictory to what Christmas is supposed to be about,” said Bellefontaine Neighbors police Chief Robert Pruett.
Every year, Troop 374 sells Christmas trees on a lot next to a church and every year, trees get stolen. Three years ago, the scouts installed security cameras.
“Lo and behold, they started catching people stealing,” Wilbur said.
The camera footage also revealed the woman in the red Dodge Durango who came back every year. In 2009 and 2010, the woman took one tree each time. But, this year she took two.
The surveillance footage shows the woman dragging away the first tree and putting it in the trunk of her car. Fifteen minutes later, she came back and took the second tree. This quick timeline has led police to believe that the woman lives very close to the lot.
“I just have a hard time believing that someone could do this during the holidays to a Boy Scout troop,” said Nick Kobel, the troop’s new scoutmaster. “The kids don’t come from a lot of money and there are a lot of things that they want to do that [the money from the tree sales] helps out with.”
The Scouts have been happy with police response and Pruett said he is set on catching the tree bandit. His detectives have been researching how many people in the area have the same red car.
“We’re really making a sincere effort this year,” Pruett said. “We would really like to catch her, recover those two trees and take them out of her house.”
Kobel has tried to use the experience in a positive way to teach the kids about how important it is to both have a good role model and to be a role model. Even though Kobel hopes police will catch the crook, he wants to be prepared for potential future occurrences.
“We will be investing in higher resolution cameras next year,” Kobel said.