Animal Thieves in Germany
Not another shoe gone! Where two sneakers had been sitting on the back patio the night before, now there was only one.
In 2009, the people of Föhren, Germany were scratching their heads about a spate of strange thefts. Germans customarily wear house shoes inside their homes. And when they come inside from the back door, they often leave their street and garden shoes outside.
But somebody was taking them overnight.
Smelly sneakers, muddy hiking boots, rubber garden boots, slippers, steel-capped leather workmen’s boots, and even flipflops: they were all disappearing, one shoe at a time. The older the shoes were, the more likely they were to go missing. Nobody calls the police about a missing old tennis shoe. But after 120 shoes vanished, the residents of this small town of barely 3,000 had a mystery on its hands. Who would want old smelly shoes? Were some kids playing a prank?
Nobody thought of animal thieves.
It was a forester, not the police, who solved the crime spree. Deep in the woods, underground. He discovered a fox den with a trove of 86 shoes, and 32 more shoes in a nearby quarry. The shoes had teeth marks all over them. They had made great chewing toys for the fox kits. Scientists even had an explanation. Sweat is salty, and the foxes may have found licking those old shoes a good source of dietary salt. That’s why the old shoes were the most popular.
You can view a photo of the fox’s shoe collection here.
The town collected the shoes and tried to return the footwear to its rightful owners, but that didn’t stop Imelda Marcos – as the townsfolk now nicknamed the vixen – from striking again. Föhren had to learn to keep its shoes inside. Imelda is now legend in Germany. But do other countries have stories of animal thieves?
Paris sure does.
Animal Thief in France
One of its cases even made it into a 19th century true crime anthology. The theft occurred in November 1827. Only a month before, on October 19, thieves had stolen the diamonds of one of France’s popular actresses, Mademoiselle Mars, in one of the most famous diamond heists of history. The thieves were caught two weeks later, so that left people scratching their heads when Paris experienced yet another diamond heist on November 11. Had they caught the right thief? Or was there a ring of jewelry thieves out there nobody knew about?
Madam Aymar, who owned a library reading room, noticed at 3 pm on Sunday, November 11, that her diamonds were gone. Missing were a pair of earrings, a solitaire, and two diamond belt buckles. Aymar’s daughter reassured her she had last seen them sitting on the furniture and swore she didn’t take them. Nobody else but a messenger and two children had visited the room during the critical time period, and Madam Aymar was sure none of them had taken her precious stones.
She had no idea who took them. And she didn’t think of animal thieves right away.
After several hours of fruitless searching, it occurred to her that she’d seen the hunting dog of one of her patrons wander into the reading room. That dog had a reputation for eating everything in sight. The librarian shared her concern with her patron and asked him if he would lend her his hunting dog. She would give it laxatives, and, for the lack of a better way to put it, continue her investigation.
What kind of canine laxatives did Paris have in 1827? Madame Aymar fed the dog rotten hay, along with lots of food to get the digestive system moving. Her therapy had the desired result, but it took the poor dog four days to pass a chestnut shell. When the librarian pried it open, there were all her diamonds.
The great canine diamond heist was most certainly, according to the anthology, the talk of all Paris.
Do you know of any cases involving animal thieves?
Literature on point:
Hitzig, ed., “Der Hund als Dieb,” Annalen der deutschen und ausländischen Criminal-Rechts-Pflege, vol. 2 (Berlin: Ferdinand Dümmler, 1828) 113-114.
“Imelda Strikes Again: Thieving Fox Amasses 120 Shoes,” Spiegel Online (June 10, 2009).