British Columbia·Photos

Luck leads police to stolen eagle carving weighing hundreds of pounds

The only thing harder than stealing a cedar carving that weighs hundreds of pounds is tracking it down nearly a year after it was stolen.

Community members thought their beloved art piece was gone for good. Now, thanks to social media, it's back.

This carving by artist Dan Richey was stolen from Hope, B.C., in 2017. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The only thing harder than stealing a cedar carving that weighs hundreds of pounds is tracking it down nearly a year after it was stolen.

That's why many people in Hope, B.C., consider it a minor miracle that one of the district's most recognizable art pieces will soon be back in its rightful place.

The cedar carving of two eagles will return to its home outside the Owl Street Café in October, thanks to social media, a community member with a keen eye for detail and a stroke of dumb luck.

Victor Smith with the group Communities in Bloom stands next to the carving that was stolen from in front of the Owl Street Café. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The heist

Victor Smith  — who is part of the Communities in Bloom group that maintains the dozens of wooden art pieces that Hope is known for — says the carving was bolted into the ground outside the restaurant.

"It's quite a feat to steal this thing," he said. "The thieves would have needed hydraulics. They knew what they were doing."

Smith was convinced the theft in June, 2017 was carried out by professionals. After several months, police had few leads and the case went cold. Smith — a proud resident of a community called Hope — gave up.

"I truly never thought we'd see it again," he said.

Then he got a phone call and everything changed.

Hope Mayor Wilfried Victor stands in front of a carved bench that is on display in front of the District Hall building. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The hunt

In late May of 2018, police got a tip from a former community member who was familiar with the carving.

The tipster spotted a piece of art that was for sale online for $4,500 that looked an awful lot like the two eagles that used to stand on Owl Street.

"We didn't believe it at first," Smith said. "The police said we're going to check it out, because we don't believe it either but someone on Facebook swears this is your carving."

Investigators used the information they gathered online to locate the two eagles.

The carving will be returned to its rightful home in October after it is refurbished. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The return

Police weren't able to collect enough evidence to recommend charges against anyone but they did retrieve the artwork.

Mayor Wilfried Vicktor says his community is known for its art walk that features 82 wood carvings, so losing one felt like a kick in the gut.

"It was kind of shocking when that carving got taken away," said Mayor Wilfried Vicktor. "It was nice to get it back. I'm glad it ended the way it did."

The piece is in good condition but it needs a little refurbishment before it's put on display .

Smith says the town has learned from the experience.When the carving returns to its rightful home in October, he says an army of thieves won't be able to steal it.

"They came prepared for this one, but we're making bigger, stronger bases now," he said. "It's not going anywhere."

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