Stealing eggs and oxen

A recent news story from Cedar Rapids rekindled some memories of a similar incident in Sioux City years ago.

In the eastern Iowa incident, sheriff’s deputies in Cedar Rapids arrested a 50-year-old man for stealing the local newspaper from outside their office. The man was seen on a security camera stealing a copy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette from the steps of the sheriff’s office. Deputies caught the thief in action a day later.

The newspaper thief was charged with fifth-degree theft and possession of drug paraphernalia.

About 28 years ago a real estate office in the Morningside neighborhood of Sioux City called the Sioux City Journal’s circulation department several mornings in a row complaining that they had not received their newspaper. The carrier assured circulation department managers that he had indeed delivered the newspaper, placing it on the step at the office’s front door.

In those days before security cameras were common, one of The Journal’s circulation department employees offered to stake out the office in the early morning hours. She was an avid photographer and took along her camera and telephoto lens on the stake out.

Sure enough, the carrier placed the real estate firm’s newspaper on the front step of the building. A few minutes later an elderly gentleman walked along the same route. When he reached the real estate office door he bent down, picked up the newspaper, tucked it under his arm and continued walking.

The circulation department employee not only saw the theft, she snapped a series of photos as it occurred.

After the film was developed in a “one-hour” lab she brought the prints to the office where another employee identified the elderly thief.

The circulation manager and one of his assistants drove to the man’s home and knocked on his door. They explained to the man that they were investigating a series of newspaper thefts and had evidence that he was the thief.

The elderly man vehemently denied the charges but when the newspaper folks pulled out a half dozen photographs showing him stealing the newspaper he confessed.

The circulation manager was a man of faith who believed in grace and mercy. He told the gentleman that he would not take the matter to the police if he promised to never steal a newspaper again. The old man swore he would never do it again and, so far as we know, he didn’t.

Newspaper theft is a common occurrence, particularly from vending machines. Low tech vendors open to a stack of newspapers with nothing (except honesty) preventing the purchaser from taking more than one newspaper.

When the Sioux City Journal began carrying the colored coupon supplements in the mid-80s Sunday newspaper thefts skyrocketed. We finally had to hire private detectives to stake out the hardest hit vending machines and arrest those who took more than one newspaper.

During that time a friend, Duane, told me about his men’s Sunday school class at a downtown church. After Sunday school each week the men walked to a nearby restaurant for coffee. On the corner where the restaurant was located stood several newspaper racks, including one for the Sioux City Journal.

Duane told me that on this particular Sunday the lesson had been on honesty. He was surprised then when one of his Sunday school classmates put the required number of quarters in the Sioux City Journal vending box and held the door open, inviting the other men to help themselves to a copy of the Sunday paper.

When Duane called him on the act, the man claimed it wasn’t theft. The Journal would never miss the copies, he claimed.

Actually, newspapers do miss the stolen copies. There is value to each copy stolen paper, ink, payroll, etc.

An old proverb states, “He that steals an egg will steal an ox.” A person who will steal an inexpensive newspaper will likely steal other things, too.