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MISSING: One jolly, portly, white-bearded fellow

Santa is missing!

Medford resident Doug Gould called the newsroom Friday evening to alert the media about the kidnapping.

When covering the cops swing shift, you expect to hear about a lot of heinous crimes. Since the night was slated to bring not only our first winter snowstorm, but also the biggest, baddest full moon of the year, I was braced.

Bring it on, Jack Frost. And all the rest of you freaks, geeks and rodeo riders.

But Doug's call was different from the usual insanity.

His annual gift to the community — a colorful holiday display outside his home at the corner of Hillcrest and Valley View drives — had been desecrated, Doug announced.

What kind of evil is this? Who would deny all the little kids the full glory of Doug's display?

A sneak thief with a penchant for holiday blow-up dolls.

In preparation for flipping the switch on $5,000 worth of ornamentation and illumination Friday evening, Doug performed a head count. Someone was missing.

"Santa was stolen off my yard display," said Doug.

Doug did a drive-around looking for his Santa. He also contacted the Medford police. So far, no sightings.

"It was just a stupid $100 inflatable Santa. But why would someone feel the need to steal it?" he asked, adding he'd had a few other items filched in years past.

I had no answers. But knowing the old adage about misery and company, I tried to comfort Doug with the news that his was not the only display defiled.

"Sadly, we get these reports every year, Doug. Santas and snowmen are common targets," I said.

Last year, Bill Gallagher and his wife, Jenny, lost a handmade wooden snowman and a smaller stuffed-cloth sidekick from their front yard on White Oak Drive to some greedy Grinch. The 5-foot-tall wooden cutout — complete with black stovepipe hats, red mittens and red and green scarves — was a gift from Jenny's mother.

The Gallaghers filed a report with Medford police within 45 minutes after the thefts were discovered. Sadly, Big Frosty and his little buddy were never seen again.

"Santa must be the Honda Accord item of holiday display thefts," Doug said, referring to the car thieves Top-10 list.

I thought Toyota Camrys topped the list. But turns out we're both wrong. Doing a quick Google search, I learned the Cadillac Escalade ESV was the most popular car to rip off in 2007, said Forbes.com.

I didn't want to add to Doug's downer by telling him he'd better keep a weather eye on any high-ticket display items. He was starting to see the humor in the situation. He'd even found a bright side to the holiday display thief's predilections.

"They don't touch the Nativity set," Doug said with a laugh.

Doug is lucky. Many a Baby Jesus have gone missing from public displays. However, sacrilegious snatchers better beware. According to USA Today, high-tech systems are being used to thwart these holiday hooligans. Churches and others who create public Nativity displays are using hidden video cameras, and they're even embedding global positioning system satellite tracking devices in the Holy Family.

Maybe I should tell Doug. I bet GPS would track a missing St. Nick, too. And I'd love to be on that police ride-a-long.

In the end, Doug announced he isn't going to let one snatched Santa ruin his holiday spirit — or his display. He's got a lot more figures in his garage. He'll put them out for all to enjoy — just as soon as he buys a generator to handle the extra load.

"I keep blowing my circuit breakers," he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.