We are all taught when we are young that stealing is wrong, but at the same time, most of us can understand why people steal the things they do. When thieves take money, gold, drugs, or any of the other common choices, they are doing so in hopes of becoming rich.
On the other hand, there are instances where people have chosen to steal things that seem so random or bizarre that it is hard to work out what they were thinking. The following are ten of the oddest items stolen by these curious criminals.
Dreaming of spending some time lying on the beach in a hot country is very common, but the idea of taking large portions of that beach away with you afterward is not. However, back in 2008, the Coral Spring beach resort in Jamaica was the site of just such an incident, as thieves made off with enough sand from its beach to fill 500 trucks.
What makes this even stranger is that the actual theft of the sand—which amounted to a large section of the beach—took place during the height of summer, in July. While we might expect that some eagle-eyed sunbather would notice huge mounds of the sand being loaded onto trucks, it took months of investigation for the police to get to the bottom of it—although they quickly came to the conclusion that the stolen sand had been sold to other resorts in the area.
The theft of a beach may seem pretty funny to us, but there is actually a worldwide black market trade in white sand of the sort found on the beach at Coral Spring, which is being caused by a global shortage due to environmental destruction. In this particular case, there was no happy ending. Five men were eventually charged with stealing the sand, but the case was dropped when a major witness refused to testify after being intimidated by death threats.
Even more surreal than the idea of stealing a beach is the theft of holes, but manhole cover robberies are more common than we might think. In London alone, close to 200 of these items were stolen in nighttime raids during the year 2004, with 93 of these thefts happening in just one week! The reason why criminals were targeting these covers was for the steel, as steel prices were rising steeply at that time.
This spate of manhole cover thefts in the UK capital was not even the most spectacular example, because Beijing saw around 240,000 of its 600,000 covers taken in the same year. The situation got so bad and presented such a risk to people walking the streets that the Chinese government even developed new covers made of materials other than steel that would be worthless if stolen.
The US was not immune from this attempt to cash in on the steel market boom, either, with Los Angeles being the city that endured the most manhole cover thefts. During 2011, criminals targeted the streets of Alhambra, while three years earlier, it was the residents of Long Beach who were trying to avoid painful real-life slapstick.
Stealing a brain is clearly not normal behavior, but in relative terms, taking the grey matter of a scientific genius like Albert Einstein is less weird than stealing, say, Logan Paul’s brain. The motivation for this particular act of robbery was not profit but science, and the man responsible was the doctor who carried out the autopsy when Einstein died in 1955—Thomas Stolz Harvey.
Stolz Harvey wanted to find out if there was anything unique about Einstein’s brain that would explain his genius, but the problem was that Stolz Harvey did not have permission from the family to cut open Einstein’s head and remove the organ, leaving Einstein’s son Hans Albert furious. Despite the anger of the family and the fact that Einstein himself had left specific instructions for his body to be cremated intact, Stolz Harvey did not return the brain, as he was convinced he could learn something useful from it. He once said, “I would have felt ashamed if I had left it.”
That proved to be perhaps the saddest aspect of the whole strange story, though, as Stolz Harvey went on to publish a series of studies in the following decades claiming that he had found evidence that differences in the brain structure were what had made Einstein a genius, only for every single one of them to be debunked.
Stealing dog poop seems a little odd, given that most of us end up picking up plenty of it on the soles of our shoes during our lives whether we want it or not. Therefore, it is perhaps not all that surprising that the thief responsible for this particular crappy heist didn’t really set out with the intention of committing a canine feces felony.
The incident took place in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2015, and the robber was actually trying to get away with a truck that the owner had parked outside his home. He broke into the vehicle via the door on the driver side in the early hours of the morning but failed to actually steal it.
It only gets odder from there, though, as apparently, the thief was keen not to leave the scene empty-handed and had a rummage around the truck’s bed, where he spotted the bag full of dog poop and decided to take that—presumably as a kind of consolation prize. The police report also stated that the owner of the truck valued the bag of feces at $1, although it did not clarify exactly how he arrived at that valuation.
If you own your house, chances are that you have home insurance, but sadly, this will not protect you in the event of someone deciding to grab your house and run away with it while you’re out. That isn’t exactly what happened to the Hempel family from Spokane, Washington, but they did show up to their holiday log cabin in Stevens County one day in 2015 to find that the entire building was missing—leaving them understandably at a loss to know how to react. The cabin thieves were spotted by at least one neighbor, which is hardly surprising, as it is very difficult to steal a building without being noticed, although the person who saw them drive it away using a trailer apparently thought it was a repossession.
It only took the local police a day to find the stolen cabin, thanks to an anonymous telephone tip-off, but it had been driven to a spot around 16 kilometers (10 mi) from its original location. The thieves had tried to conceal it by leaving it on a private road, but what adds to the strangeness of the whole thing is the fact that they had also decided to put the cabin on stilts, which really seems like something that would draw attention. Sheriff Kendle Allen was remarkably unfazed by the incident of cabin-napping, telling the local press that this was not the first time that it had happened in the area.
Glaciers are cool, in every sense of the word, but that does not mean that we have the right to pick one up and walk away with it as if it belonged to us. Not everyone understands that, though, as back in 2012, a man from Chile decided to steal a large chunk of one of the glaciers in the remote South American region of Patagonia. Five tons’ worth of ice from the Jorge Montt Glacier were taken and driven away from the scene of the crime in a truck before the Chilean National Forest Service realized that anything was wrong. Once they became aware of the theft, they alerted the police. The truck was picked up by police in Cochrane, and the driver was arrested.
He did not steal the ice in the hopes of having his own portable glacier in his backyard; instead, it was about trying to make money. It is believed that he planned to take the stolen glacier ice to Santiago, the capital and largest city of Chile, so that he could attempt to sell it to expensive restaurants and bars, where it would have been cut up and used as ice cubes for drinks. Had he succeeded, it could have made him thousands of dollars.
The driver of the truck was charged with theft, but apparently, many of the foreign tourists who patronize these upscale restaurants and bars know that the ice in their drinks has been taken directly from South American glaciers and feel that it makes the ice more special.
A flute prodigy who breaks into a museum and steals the skins of tropical birds in the hopes of becoming a rich and famous feather thief sounds like the plot of the most high-concept movie ever, but it actually happened. Edwin Rist was a gifted flautist from the US who had moved to the UK to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. However, along with his passion for music and the flute, Rist had been fascinated by bird feathers and their use in fly-tying (creating artificial flies for use in fishing) since seeing a man make intricate salmon flies from these feathers when he was a child.
In 2009, this secret obsession would lead him to travel to the town of Tring in Hertfordshire and break into the National History Museum. This is home to one of the finest collections of exotic and rare birds in the whole world, and Rist stole almost 300 bird skins—including birds of paradise, quetzals, and riflebirds. Before he was caught and charged, he went on to sell the skins of the birds on eBay to other people interested in fly-tying, having taken the tags off the skins first, which meant that crucial scientific data about them was lost forever.
At his trial, Rist was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for two years. He was told to repay the £125,150 he had made by selling the bird skins, under the terms of the UK Proceeds of Crime Act, if he wanted to avoid going to jail.
Einstein is not the only famous person to have failed to leave his autopsy intact, as apparently the former emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte lost his private part! The story goes that when Napoleon died in exile in 1827, the doctor who carried out an autopsy on his body cut the penis off and took it to Corsica, where he passed it on to a priest.
What exactly he expected this priest to do with the Emperor’s member has been lost in the mists of time, but the same cannot be said for the body part itself. Exactly 100 years after the death of its owner, it made a visit to the US, where it was part of an exhibition that took place in Manhattan and was described by a writer from Time magazine as looking like a “maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace,” so it had clearly not been very well-looked after.
This would not prove to be the end of the matter for the organ, although the government in France turned down an invitation to buy it back. Instead, it was bought by Dr. John Lattimer, a urologist and relic enthusiast who already owned such items as the container that Hermann Goering had kept his suicide pill in and some locks of hair from the head of Adolf Hitler. He wanted to try to discover whether mercury or arsenic had been used to kill Napoleon, as well as to restore the Emperor’s dignity by taking his manhood out of public circulation, but sadly, it seems he never got around to performing these toxicology tests on it before he died.
Hair can be a valuable thing, especially if you don’t have much of it, but despite that, most of us resist the temptation to join a gang and start stealing clumps of it from people on the street. This was not the case in the city of Maracaibo, Venezuela, in 2013, when a gang that called itself the “piranhas” roamed the streets slicing off the hair of local women and selling it.
There was nothing funny about the actual robberies, with the gang holding guns to the heads of the women, forcing them to tie their locks into ponytails, and then hacking them off using shears or razor blades. The reason for stealing hair was to sell it via underground criminal networks, where it could fetch prices of up to $800 and would go on to be used to create wigs and hair extensions sold in the hairdressing salons of the city.
At the time that the attacks were at their height, the president of Venezuela claimed that the stories were not true, but they were heavily reported in the Venezuelan press, and the country’s obsession with physical beauty was blamed by the El Nacional newspaper. Although hair thefts have also taken place in countries such as South Africa, where men have been robbed of their dreadlocks, something that makes the Venezuelan story unique is that the “piranhas” gang was almost entirely female.
Taking body parts from dead people seems to be a popular, if creepy, form of criminality, and another example of it occurred in New Zealand during 2018. The city of Auckland was playing host to an exhibition called Body Worlds Vital, and one of the attendees was a man by the name of Joshua Putaone Williams, who came from Upper Hutt. The exhibition was made up of organs and corpses of human beings, which seems like the sort of thing that would attract fairly unusual people in the first place.
According to newspaper reports at the time, Williams just went up to one of the corpses and pulled off two of the toes—the index and middle ones—before walking away with them. It is possible that he could have gotten away with this, had he not then been dumb enough to go onto social media to boast about what he had done, complete with photographic evidence. Not surprisingly, this led to him being caught and charged with the distinctly niche crime of “improperly interfering with the dead body of an unknown person” for stealing the toes, which were apparently worth $3,813.
Williams pleaded guilty, telling police officers, “I saw them so I took them,” in what was surely the lamest defense in criminal history. Amazingly, despite all this, the court let him go free, and the tootsies were returned to their rightful owner.
I am a freelance writer who lives in Dundee, Scotland. I have written sketches for BBC radio, and I make short films under the name Wardlaw Films.