MARYLAND HEIGHTS • They call it the great pumpkin caper of suburban St. Louis.
It all started on the midnight watch for one Maryland Heights police officer the night of Oct. 18. It was about 1:40 a.m. when the first call came in: The pumpkins were missing.
First in one subdivision — Pinehurst — then more calls from another — Arrow Heights. There soon seemed to be gaping holes in fall stoop displays everywhere in the area.
Sgt. Jamie White of the Maryland Heights Police Department was on the case.
A neighbor called in a description of a compact SUV spotted around the time of the first vanishing pumpkin.
In yet another subdivision — Brookside — White soon tracked down a Subaru Forester matching the description.
The officer quickly suspected he’d nabbed his thief. The car held three teenage boys and 48 pumpkins.
Plus one gourd.
“No idea how they all fit in there,” Maryland Heights police Capt. Scott Will said. “It was top-to-bottom orange.
“It wasn’t hard to put the pieces together after that.”
Police stopped the car and arrested the teens on the spot. The case was cracked. Luckily the pumpkins weren’t.
The next day, officers placed the abducted decor along a white wall at headquarters, took a picture and posted it to social media.
“I have attached a picture of a pumpkin line up,” wrote Officer Erica Stough in a post seeking pumpkin owners. “If you woke up this morning to missing pumpkins, please contact me.”
There began a dayslong pumpkin ID process.
“You’d be surprised how many people showed up to identify their pumpkins,” said Will. “We were inundated.”
Will said many claimed to know their pumpkin by sight.
“I don’t know how, but we trusted people would be honest,” he said. “And you know, a pumpkin is basically a pumpkin.”
As of Tuesday, there were only 13 pumpkins (plus the gourd) left unclaimed.
It was a happy ending for all except the three teens that were seemingly found orange-handed.
The older two, both 18, were charged with misdemeanor stealing. The third, a 16-year-old, was referred to juvenile court.
One of the teens told police he couldn’t explain what possessed the group to go on their pumpkin-nabbing spree.
“They made a bad decision,” Will said.
There is also, of course, a larger lesson to the story, Will said, besides the fact that it is difficult to conceal large quantities of pumpkins in a compact SUV.
“It’s a great example of people not being afraid to call and report something like this,” Will said. “They saw one pumpkin missing, but they reported it not even realizing these guys were on a pumpkin rampage.
“(Police) are here for the big stuff,” Will said. “But we’re here for smaller stuff like missing pumpkins, too.”