SALT LAKE CITY — Metal theft, and specifically the theft of valuable statues, continues to keep detectives busy along the Wasatch Front.
"Metals theft is a big issue in Salt Lake City," Salt Lake City Detective Dennis McGowan said Wednesday.
Brazen thieves stole a total of 11 bronze statues over the last few weeks in Salt Lake County, and theft of metal wire and pipes has been a problem across the country for years.
But police and many of the metal recyclers have worked together more closely the last three years to put a dent in the market for hot metal.
Chris Bond owns and operates Metro Recycling in Salt Lake City. It's a fifth-generation business that turns over 400 million pounds of metal a month, so his workers have to stay vigilant to spot stolen metals.
"If we buy stolen materials, when the police come to confiscate it we lose the money," Bond said. "So it does us no good to buy stolen materials."
Last week, the Sandy Police Department put out an alert to metal recyclers. They were looking for bronze from nine life-size statues stolen from the Hill Gallery and Sculpture Park Thanksgiving weekend.
"We'll print out those alerts and give them to our employees," Bond said. "We'll educate them about what the material may look like so that when it comes in we're able to recognize it and get a hold of the authorities."
That's what happened late last week. On Nov. 29, one of Metro's customers, who is a smaller-scale recycler, brought in a barrel of several hundred pounds of bronze or brass.
Bronze and brass go for $1.50 to $2 a pound right now, but the company didn't pay a penny. An employee told his supervisor that the metal didn't look right.
"We noticed it was cut up, it had kind of been manipulated," Bond said. "It looked kind of suspicious."
So, they took a closer look.
"We noticed there were some different brass body parts: some fingers and stuff like that," Bond said.
He said his employees even spotted bronze braids of hair, so they were pretty sure those were parts of statues from the gallery in Sandy. They called police, who seized several hundred pounds of bronze from the chopped up statues.
Sandy detectives went to the smaller recycling operation and followed a few leads that have not panned out, yet. But they'll subpoena the records and surveillance video from that smaller recycler to try to track down the thieves.
Salt Lake City detectives had an easier time solving the Nov. 30 theft of a statue from Davis Park, at 2000 East and 900 South in Salt Lake City.
The statue of a quail on roller skates, called "Skating to Fly," was about 4 feet tall, weighed 300 pounds, and was valued around $20,000. Police were able to track it down Tuesday, not far from Davis Park.
A man who lives about a block from the park, spotted the statue in his neighbor's yard and called police. The homeowner, who had held a party Friday night, led police to Cody Adams.
Adams was arrested on suspicion of felony theft. Police believe he stole the statue and left it in the backyard.
"It was an alcohol-involved incident, and it went from there," McGowan said.
Roni Thomas, public arts program manager for Salt Lake City, has been told the statue is not badly damaged. She said the city is thrilled to get it back, and it will probably be put it back in the park in the spring.
Still, Thomas feels bad for the Hill Gallery in their loss of so many pieces of art.
The Sandy Police Department is still optimistic about tracking down those thieves. Tips from recyclers don't always pan out, but their cooperation with the police and the district attorney is critical to eliminating the market for stolen metal.
"We hope that we're staying ahead of the crooks," Bond said.