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Copper Kleptos Hit Lincoln's Tomb

By JoshMogerman in News on Nov 12, 2011 9:30PM

Lincoln's Tomb [Bob & Mary]

Almost 150 years after his death, Honest Abe is still suffering attacks from dishonest folks. The most recent slight: thieves have stolen part of his tomb! The Associated Press reports that state officials found a 3-foot copper sword had been removed from one of the Civil War statues at his gravesite in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. It is hardly the first time that Lincoln’s tomb has been the target of grave robbers. Efforts to steal the former President’s remains forced the move and pour tons of concrete over his coffin. But this incident points to something that has made life in Chicago and around the world more of a pain in the butt in recent years: soaring metal commodity prices.

With copper prices remaining at near historic levels, thieves have become more brazen -- and heartless -- in recent years. Lincoln’s grave is hardly the only one impacted by this phenomenon. Copper grave markers are disappearing from cemeteries around the country. And if victimizing the dead isn’t heartless enough, what about orphaned puppies? Earlier this year, thieves trashed the roof AC systems at the Animal Welfare League to get at copper wires and condensers, forcing emergency placement of more than 100 animals elsewhere.

Central air condenser thefts got so crazy in the Chatham neighborhood this summer that residents started caging the cooling units. And the issue is even worse in places where foreclosures have emptied neighborhoods. The Chicago News Cooperative documented entire homes being ripped apart and stripped of copper wiring in hard hit neighborhoods. And just as rebuilding is finally happening in Joplin, Mo., after devastating tornadoes leveled the town, thieves are moving in to steal the electrical supplies.

If these metal marauders were not putting others in danger, it would be hard not to appreciate their chutzpah. Copper kleptos rammed a suburban BBQ restaurant with a car to get at pipes, hit a police radio tower in Kansas City, stole so much cable that it knocked out Coast Guard communications systems in the UK and shut down power for the city of Gary.

But with scrap yards paying only $4/pound and high profile stories of ill-fated thieves paying the ultimate price for yanking the wrong wires (like an electrocuted man who died trying to plunder a ComEd facility last month), these jags are looking for something less risky to grab. In neighboring Missouri and Lincoln’s downstate home, that could be grease for use in making biofuel. At $3/gallon, thieves have started targeting restaurant grease pits for a quick score. The president of the National Renderers Association told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that grease "is like the new copper. These thieves are getting more sophisticated. It's a multimillion-dollar business for them."

Unless you cook a LOT of bacon, this new crime wave is a lot less likely to touch your home. But who would have guessed that high gas prices could end up being the thing that finally lets President Lincoln rest in peace?