Theft in itself isn’t that bizarre or mysterious. Thieves steal things like jewelry, cars, gadgets, and other material objects all the time, mostly because they want to have them without earning or paying for them. It gets baffling, however, when the stolen item in question falls outside the established norms of what can or can’t be stolen. Thieves around the world have taken to stealing all kinds of things you didn’t know could be stolen – from sharks to glaciers to manhole covers.
10. Manhole Covers
In 2008, nearly 50 cast-iron manhole covers – each weighing around 150 pounds – were stolen from roadways and alleys in the Long Beach area of California, all within a span of just eight months. The frequency of the thefts only increased over time, as the covers were disappearing at a higher rate every week. While the stolen covers were promptly reported and replaced, they still cost the city around $500 per replacement.
It might sound like a specific, unlikely crime, though theft of manhole covers has been a rising problem the world over in the past few years, particularly in developing nations like China. The soaring price of metal is contributing to an epidemic of these cases, as these covers could be melted down and sold as scrap at ever-increasing prices. Various cities have implemented their own measures to prevent it, like bolting covers, special locks, and plastic covers.
9. A Train Engine
Some time in 2022, an entire diesel train engine was disassembled piece-by-piece and stolen from a yard in India’s Begusarai district. The thieves gained access to the area via a tunnel they dug themselves, and the incident only came to light when a case was registered at a nearby police station.
As the investigation progressed, three individuals were arrested after the authorities raided a scrap godown in another district called Muzaffarpur. During the search, they discovered 13 sacks filled with stolen train parts, including engine components, vintage engine wheels, and heavy-iron railway parts. According to local reports from that time, the police were still on the lookout for the owner of the godown.
8. George Washington’s Wallet
George Washington’s wallet, on loan to the Old Barracks Museum in New Jersey, was stolen from the museum in early 1992. It went missing for almost three weeks before it was found, only with two bills worth $1.66 in colonial currency missing from it. In a curious twist, it was returned by one Eric Davis, working as a lawyer for an unknown, anonymous client.
The return was made on George Wasington’s birthday, and a $500 reward was offered and paid to the returner. According to Davis, it had been quite easy to steal, too, as his anonymous client just had to lift the protective glass holding the wallet to take it.
7. A Bridge
Ever look at a bridge and feel like stealing it? While we don’t advise it, it can be done, as proven by a group of men that did exactly that in India in April 2022. The gang, including government workers from the local irrigation department, worked for three days and dismantled an old 60-foot long, 550-ton iron bridge. Disguised in government uniforms, they used gas-cutting torches and earth excavators to remove all the individual parts, and proceed to transport it to a local scrap dealer’s warehouse.
The local villagers were mostly unaware of the theft, and initially thought that the government was finally doing something about the dilapidated infrastructure in the area. However, they were sorely mistaken, and the theft went unnoticed until one of them contacted the officials. Eight people, including the government workers and one scrapyard owner, were arrested in connection with the incident.
6. A Glacier
In 2012, a man was arrested in Chile for stealing and smuggling about five tons of ice from the Jorge Montt glacier in the Patagonia region. The truck was intercepted by local police, and the total value of the ice was estimated around $6,100. It’s believed to have been destined for Santiago, as gourmet polar-ice cubes fetch high prices at the upscale bars and restaurants scattered across the capital.
The theft of glacial ice has captured popular attention in Chile in recent years, as it’s an increasingly valuable commodity in the regions bordering Patagonia. The Jorge Montt glacier located in the Bernardo O’Higgins national park, for example, is retreating by more than half a mile every year.
5. Napoleon’s Penis
After Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821, there were many speculations around what happened to his various body parts. One particular area of interest was his penis. According to some accounts, his doctor or his priest was responsible for removing it during the autopsy. It was allegedly then stolen by Napoleon’s chaplain, who smuggled it from St. Helena all the way to his home in Corsica. It remained under the protection of his family until 1916, before it was sold to a bookselling company based in London.
The organ was later shown to the public in 1927 at the Museum of French Art, New York. It drew mixed reactions from the crowd, including a bit of pointing and laughing, though that was more likely because of its decaying leather-like appearance than anything else.
4. A Human Toe
In June 2017, the town of Dawson City in Yukon, Canada, was struck by a peculiar crime. Someone had stolen a severed toe from the prized collection of the Downtown Hotel, and it wasn’t just any toe, either. It was one of the ingredients used to make the hotel’s signature drink, the Sourtoe Cocktail, which – at least according to the reports – was loved by most of its patrons.
The tradition goes back to the 1920s, when a rum runner preserved his amputated big toe in alcohol. It was found by a native about fifty years later, frozen in snow and clearly waiting to be put inside a drink, and it had been in use by the hotel ever since.
Thankfully, the stolen artifact – if it can be called that – was mailed to the authorities within the next few days. It arrived with a note of apology, though the thief was never identified.
3. Einstein’s Brain
Albert Einstein, one of the most renowned scientists in history, died on April 18, 1955. His autopsy was done by a pathologist named Thomas Harvey, though he took it a step further and decided to remove Einstein’s brain, leading to him getting fired from Princeton hospital. Regardless, he obtained permission from Einstein’s son to study it, though not before he had already cut it into 240 pieces.
By studying Einstein’s brain, Harvey had hoped to gain some insights into his extraordinary intellectual abilities, even if this didn’t sit too well with the rest of the medical community, as removing an organ from a dead body violated medical ethics and patient rights. The brain remained in his sole possession until 1978, when it was revealed to the public and the larger scientific community for the first time.
2. A Beach
In 2008, thieves in Jamaica stole hundreds of tons of valuable white sand – or an entire beach – from a planned resort on the island’s north coast. The case – leading to a loss of more than a million dollars to the owner – is only one of the many incidents of beach theft cropping up around the world. They’re largely thanks to a growing shortage of sand, as it’s a crucial ingredient in various large-scale, global industries, leading to theft, smuggling, and even violence due to the illegal sand trade.
Still, the scale of the theft – to the tune of about 500 truck-loads of sand – baffled the authorities, and also sparked a political controversy of sorts. According to some, the crime was organized by rival hotel owners, as it appeared to be highly organized in nature.
In response, the government suspended all operations at the planned resort and conducted an environmental study to further analyze the impact of missing sand on nearby ecosystems. Despite testing other beaches and other attempts at tracing the stolen sand, it was never found, and no arrests were made.
1. A Shark
In perhaps one of the most audacious attempts at marine theft in history, an entire shark was stolen from the San Antonio Aquarium in Texas back in July 2018. It was fully captured by surveillance, as the footage showed one of three suspects reaching into the tank and removing the two-feet long gray horn shark. After mixing a bleach solution into the aquarium’s water-filtration system, the thieves used a stroller to take the shark to their car outside.
Sadly, at least for them, this plan had too many loopholes to succeed, as a manager noticed them leaving the aquarium and followed them to their car. The authorities tracked the suspects down to a house filled with sharks and marine animals in a small pool.