Crooks go to extreme measures to steal odd items

Published 4:11 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

There’s a joke that, like me, has been around for a long, long time. So much to the point that I recall hearing it as a child.

“How do you eat an elephant?”

The answer is simple, one bite at a time.

So, that begs to ask: how do you steal a radio tower?

And for those of you thinking that’s another joke, it’s not because the owner and the employees of WJLX aren’t laughing.

Nearly two weeks ago (Feb. 2), a crew that maintains the property of the AM station in Jasper, Alabama were performing their daily routine when they learned something way, way out of the ordinary….the 200 foot radio tower was missing…gone…disappeared.

According to Global News, the tower, which supports antennas for the radio station’s broadcasting, was nowhere in sight. The only evidence that the tower was once standing tall at that location were its support cables that were left on the ground.

The station’s AM transmitter, a device that send signals to the radio tower, was also stolen from a nearby building, which had been vandalized.

“I’ve been trying all weekend to make sense of it, but I just can’t,” said Brett Elmore, the station’s general manager. “I’ve been involved in the radio business my whole life, and I’ve never heard of anything like this. I thought I had seen it all.”

Elmore estimated the cost to replace the tower is approximately $60,000.

Until that time comes, the local community in that part of rural Alabama (located north of Birmingham) is without its beloved station. WJLX has been on the airwaves since the mid-1950s. The radio station plays everything from classic rock to a daily 8 a.m. church program.

Elmore is hopeful WJLX will get back on the air. He has created a GoFundMe page in an effort to collect donations.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of how one steals a 200 foot metal tower. It’s extremely unlikely that it was hauled off in one piece (see the elephant joke). More than likely, a reciprocating saw or an angle grinder was used to cut it into sections at the site, then loaded up and hauled away.

However, all of that work would take time to complete. And it’s obvious the work had to be done under the cover of darkness to avoid detection, so whoever is responsible would have to carefully plan out this caper.

I did a bit more research online and found story, this one from USA Today, that said the tower was located in a wooded area behind a local poultry plant.

The Jasper police believe that the thieves who stole the tower will sell the metal for scrap. There was also a report that the tower has copper writing as well…another item that thieves target.

Elmore noted that around six months ago, a different radio station in the general area had an AC unit, copper pipes, and other materials stolen from them.

While we can all sympathize with Elmore and the loyal listeners of his radio station, here are some additional stories I dug up on the world wide web regarding thieves who went to extreme measures to steal things that are out of the ordinary.

In 2012, thieves in the Czech Republic stole a 10-ton steel bridge. Well, in this case, the bridge, used only by pedestrians, was being dismantled. But these clever thieves, using forged documents, fooled authorities by claiming they were a company hired to construct a new bicycle path.

The thieves used a crane to dismantle the pedestrian bridge linking the western Czech villages of Loket and Horni Slavkov along with about 650 feet of railway track.

The stolen metal was valued at around $6,300….a lot of work for not a lot of cash!

In 1990, two culprits made off with 300 manhole covers at different locations in Los Angeles. The duo was later caught when police found them selling the covers to scrap-material dealers.

In 2012, an entrepreneur from Chile, armed with a refrigerated truck, stole five tons of ice from a glacier to make “Designer Ice Cubes”.

Back in 2008, the owners of the Coral Spring Resort in Jamaica reported that thieves had made off with about 500 truckloads of sand from their beachfront. There was not any information if the culprits were nabbed.

According to the Readers Digest website, thieves used a torch in 2011 to tear apart a little-used 50-foot bridge from North Beaver Township, Pennsylvania, removing $100,000 worth of steel.

Weirdly, it isn’t the first time a bridge has gone missing. A 36-foot steel bridge in Ukraine was stolen for scrap metal in 2004, leaving several villages without their main route across the river.

In 2011, NASA recovered a RL-10 rocket engine worth $20,000, which an employee had stolen. The giveaway to its whereabouts…it was being sold on an Internet auction.

In 2013, a former warehouse employee and an accomplice were caught smuggling a Detroit hospital’s pre-2005 x-rays out of storage but managed to escape with the loot. The images might not seem that valuable, but x-ray thefts are actually fairly common because the film has silver inside. But thieves might not bargain for the fact that the process of extracting the silver is actually pretty expensive.

And, finally, two men were accused of stealing hundreds of gallons of used cooking oil from a Chick-fil-A in Georgia in October of last year.

According to the Athens-Clarke County police report, obtained by WSB-TV, a U-Haul box truck pulled up to a dumpster located near the restaurant around 3 a.m. on Oct. 5. Two men exited the vehicle and proceeded to drain 200 to 300 gallons of fry oil from a container that held the oil to be recycled.

The location’s manager said it was the fourth time that used cooking oil has been swiped from that particular restaurant. Between 700 and 800 gallons of oil, worth $2,000, was stolen last time.

Used cooking oil can be refined and sold and it can be used as an alternative fuel.

With that in mind, if you happen to see a cooking oil-burning vehicle parked near a radio tower in the middle of the night, you might want to call the cops!!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal