4 Arrested After Thieves, Waving and Smiling, Steal Big Key

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 15, 2007

The 30 keys scattered throughout downtown Frederick don't open anything, but they have proved an irresistible target to thieves.

Police arrested four men yesterday and recovered a six-foot fiberglass key, decorated like an American flag by artist Jonathan West, that had been taken from a downtown sidewalk early yesterday. Witnesses said the thieves smiled and waved as they removed it.

It was the second key to be stolen -- there was also a third, failed attempt -- since the 30 keys by local artists were unveiled in August throughout Frederick's historic downtown. Many of the keys have been vandalized with spray paint, and one was broken into pieces during a weekend festival.

Another key, painted by Gail Padgett and Roni Nehemias to look like the Maryland flag, also disappeared over the weekend from outside the Maryland School for the Deaf and is still missing.

"It's mostly goofy people who are drunk, usually, and it's something new for them to mess with," said Officer Rebecca Huegel of the Frederick police.

Witnesses at a nearby restaurant told police yesterday they watched four men remove the key from its base and maneuver it into a tan Chevrolet Avalanche pickup about 2 a.m. Someone jotted down the license plate number and gave it to police.

Officers traced the plate number to a house outside city limits. When they arrived at the address, two men attempted to flee out the back door but were soon captured, police said. Officers located the purloined key in the living room.

Witnesses thwarted the theft of a third key by shouting and pointing at the thieves, who left it in the middle of the street.

"That's the one that's blue and has cows on it," Huegel said. It is formally known as the Return of the Clustered Holsteins and was created by Ron Roos.

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