A grave offense in St. Paul

On the morning of September 1, a St. Paul police officer patrolling the East Side spotted a familiar face behind the wheel of a passing vehicle. The officer knew the driver--35 year-old Dave Schmotter--didn't possess a valid license and, police say, the officer knew that Schmotter had been "involved in thefts and property crimes on the East Side." After stopping Schmotter, the officer proceeded to search the vehicle whereupon he made a surprising discovery: two 25-pound bronze markers allegedly stolen from the Oakland Cemetery.

According to St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh, Schmotter confessed to investigators that he and accomplice Scott Lee Hetrick planned to grind off the identifying inscriptions and then sell the markers at a scrap yard.

Walsh says he is not aware of any other cemetery marker heists in St. Paul. However, he says there has been a "marked spike" in thefts of metals in the city. The most common targets have been construction sites, where copper wire and pipes frequently turn up missing these days. The explanation for the phenomenon? A white hot scrap metal market in which the price of copper has doubled in the past year.

Not surprisingly, as the Wall Steet Journal reported yesterday, the problem is hardly confined to the saintly city. In Detroit, according to the paper, thieves have stolen the copper wiring from street lights; in Indianapolis, the copper components on residential air conditioners have been pilfered; and in Little Rock, Arkansas, theives posing as service technicians removed the copper plumbing from a historic downtown home.

Meanwhile, Schmotter and Hetrick have been charged with theft and receiving stolen property. Schmotter also faces a charge of possession of methamphetamine.

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