|
|
Examiner
  • Two Independence residents charged in statue theft; another sought

  • Two Independence residents face felony theft charges in connection with the theft of the Pioneer Woman statue from the National Frontier Trails Museum.



    Jeremy W. Ratliff, 36, and Kelli L. Summers, 33, were arrested Wednesday and each charged by Jackson County prosecutors Thursday with stealing an item valued at $500 to $25,000, a felony. Each was being held on a cash bond of $50,000.

    • email print
  • Two Independence residents face felony theft charges in connection with the theft of the Pioneer Woman statue from the National Frontier Trails Museum.
    Jeremy W. Ratliff, 36, and Kelli L. Summers, 33, were arrested Wednesday and each charged by Jackson County prosecutors Thursday with stealing an item valued at $500 to $25,000, a felony. Each was being held on a cash bond of $50,000.
    Also, Independence police are looking for a person of interest in the case, Randy V. Perez Jr., 29, of Independence. He is described as 5-foot-5, 110 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair.
    The statue was a beloved part of the Trails Museum. It was paid for through community fundraising and was installed when the museum opened in 1990. It cost $35,000 then, and police put the value today at $75,000. The hollow, bronze 6-foot statue – a woman holding a baby in one arm and a pail in the other hand – weighed 1,000 pounds. Part of it, the clothing, had a blue hue to it, and that apparently helped police piece together what happened.
    According to an Independence Police Department probable-cause statement, the theft occurred about 7 a.m. last Saturday. It was also that day that two males showed up at 12th Street Recycling in Kansas City and tried to sell a large amount of bronze. They brought it in in a large trash can, and workers at the recycling company dumped it out and sorted it. The manager said the bronze was “crumbled and cut with blue color in the bronze metal. Once staff observed a bronze hand (they) refused the items,” according to the statement. The manager said the bronze would have been worth $578. The men put the bronze back in the trash can and left.
    Late Monday morning is when staff at the museum noticed the statue missing. Police emailed area recyclers, and 12th Street Recycling contacted them, told them what happened and turned over a video of the attempted sale.
    Police closely checked the scene at the museum and found plastic pieces – apparently auto body molding – some of them black, some with maroon paint. The courtyard where the statue had stood is set off and isn’t meant for vehicle access. The men at the recycling company had driven a dark maroon station wagon.
    Police identified at least one of the men from the video, and they went to a place in northwest Independence where they had had contact with him. Detectives saw a maroon Ford Escort station wagon with damage, and they noticed it appeared to match the plastic pieces found at the museum. Summers and Ratliff drove away in the Escort, and an officer stopped them. Ratliff was arrested on outstanding warrants, and Summers was taken in for questioning. One of the pieces police recovered at the museum matched car’s damaged bumper.
    Page 2 of 2 - Summers told police she, Ratliff and a second man – she knew him as “Bubba” – took the statue. She said she drove the Escort into the museum courtyard and the two men loaded it into the car. They left it at Bubba’s home on Willow Avenue. Later, she and Ratliff picked up Bubba – the statue was now in pieces and in the trash can – and she drove them to 12th Street Recyclers. She said the company wouldn’t buy the bronze because staff noticed the statue’s hand. There’s a Kansas City ordinance against recyclers buying artwork, and the manager told The Examiner the company wouldn’t have bought it anyway, not knowing what it was and suspecting it was valuable artwork.
    Summers said she drove the men back to Bubba’s home, and she last saw Bubba dragging the trash can, with the pieces of the statue, down the driveway.
    Police said Thursday the remains of the statue have not been recovered. The case remains under investigation.
    The incident has rocked many in the community. Seeing the statue was part of the experience of visiting the Trails Museum, which tells the story of the California, Oregon and Santa Fe trails, an integral part of the city’s history. The business of outfitting pioneers headed west put the city on the map and helped it grow in the 1840s and ’50s. The Pioneer Woman was a testament to the determination and sacrifices made by women in those frontier families.
    “It’s been a part of our lives here at the museum for many years,” said curator David Aamodt.
    Police had posted a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, and the city had put up $4,000 for the statue’s return – intact.
    “There’s always hope,” Aamodt said. “Reality told me very quickly that there was not a good chance. We hoped someone would step forward.”
    Although it’s too soon to know what might be done to possibly replace the statue, “certainly we would probably want something to convey that original intent of the statue,” Aamodt said.
     

      calendar