The famous crown of the Brave and the swords of Grunwald were already stolen for scrap. The insignia of Polish rulers stolen by Prussians in 1795 were melted down by king Frederick William because he was short of money. How do we know this?
Anyone who has ever renovated an apartment knows that a ten-finished radiator, an old refrigerator or a massive cast-iron bathtub carried down the stairs with difficulty by four guys can disappear from the stairwell in the blink of an eye, carried by a scrawny old man on a two-wheeled cart or hauled on his back. Our nation’s passion for scrap metal is well known. The reasons for this fascination are lost in the darkness of history, while its effects are often recorded in criminal chronicles. Some of the stories are horrible, some are funny, but the scale of the phenomenon is astonishing.
Relic, tanks, and slime
Undoubtedly the most famous trophy of thieves was the 17th century baroque reliquary of St Adalbert, stolen from the Gniezno Archcathedral in 1986. The reliquary disappeared during the night from 19th to 20th March, and the traces left at the crime scene indicated that the thieves were not very interested in the historical or artistic value of the work of the Dutch goldsmith. They were only interested in the silver from which the piece was made. The theft brought law enforcement agencies all over the country to their feet, roadblocks were ordered, a special investigation group was set up, and the case was supervised by the Ministry of National Defence Headquarters. A number of rewards were promised for help in capturing the perpetrators.
Two weeks after the robbery, thanks to a citizen’s report, the police received information that someone was melting down some silver sheets in a garage in Gdańsk. On the same day three men were detained, brothers Krzysztof and Marek M. and Waldemar B. Trace evidence from the garage, the archcathedral, and the apartments of the detainees, as well as fingerprints from a blade abandoned in the temple, left no doubt. After the hearings, a fourth detainee, the instigator of the robbery, Piotr N., was co-opted. The trial was short and the sentences were harsh – the thieves each received 15 years in prison. Acknowledgments were written, awards were given, and medals were pinned. Only the reliquary was not saved, the intricate ornaments melted away under the acetylene flame. Then communism fell, and in the new system our enterprising society showed what it can do.
In Łódź, a modern sculpture was lost from a square in the city center. Someone tore out the plaques commemorating the victims of June ’56 in Poznan. Every day kilometers of electric cables disappear. And also many other interesting things.
In 2001, during the manoeuvres on the training ground in Biedrusko, the attention of the officer on duty was attracted by a civilian car parked near dilapidated T-55 tanks used as a model for the exercises. A patrol sent to the place frightened off three young men who, upon seeing the approaching soldiers, escaped into the forest. The men were busy dismantling one of the tanks. The thieves were not caught, and the army waved them off, more amused than outraged by the attempt to transport the multi-ton armored vehicle in an old Fiat.
In 2006, in Pełczyce in Zachodniopomorskie province, police detained a 58-year-old pensioner who made a living by vandalizing a cemetery – he tore metal images of Christ out of tombstones, broke them and sold them for scrap. He managed to destroy 50 monuments before one of the residents of Pełczyce reported damage to the family tomb. A fragment of a metal band was found in the garage of a pensioner, and a bag with over thirty broken figurines was found in a nearby scrap metal store. It was a very expensive five dollars: the manager of the store will answer for receiving stolen goods and the vandal is facing up to five years in prison.
A year later, in Gdańsk, two people first dismantled a sluice on the Radunia Canal and then sold the metal elements at a scrap yard. They earned 200 PLN. Both men were detained by police officers when they returned satisfied with the money. The owner of the company which bought recyclable materials, who accepted false goods without proper documents, also heard charges. Luckily, the pieces of the lock were found in the nearest scrap yard. They had to be mounted again.
An inhabitant of Bogatynia (Lower Silesia), thirsty for non-ferrous metals, used an axe to break a hole in the historic door of the Evangelical Chapel and then treated the organ in an equally “subtle” way, trying to dig out its brass pipes. The policemen notified about the burglary arrived in time and found the thief at work. The robber will go to jail, but first he should make good his losses, initially estimated at 20 thousand zloty.
In the summer of 2007 the police in Wroclaw investigated the case of manhole covers disappearing in different parts of the city. Unprotected openings in the roadway and on sidewalks posed a threat to pedestrians. In July, a woman fell into such a two-meter-deep manhole without a cover, sustaining serious injuries. The perpetrators were apprehended in early August. Two young men from Wroclaw, whose thinking was apparently not their strong point, were carrying in their car a hammer for breaking manholes and several freshly acquired storm drain covers. More than 160 covers dismantled by the robbers were found at a resource collection point where they monetized their loot.
In a forest near the villages of Gorzelin and Chróstnik near Lubin, next to a railroad track, unknown perpetrators stole a telecommunication cable, causing losses in the amount of PLN 23,000. “Unknown perpetrators” did not stay like that for long, the police established that the wire was looted by two local farmers. The 30- and 50-year-olds cut and pulled more than 70 meters of telephone wire out of the ground with a tractor. More such treasures were found in the yard of one of them. Now the robbers face up to five years in prison.
On a cold February night in 2008 two men with a characteristic scrap metal cart caught the attention of a patrol on one of the streets in Krosno. They were transporting two swings. The men had bought the equipment at a playground belonging to the Polish Association for Persons with Mental Handicap and were obviously driving it to a collection point. Instead of going there, they went to jail, the equipment was returned to its place and the amount of punishment was to be determined by the valuation of the stolen swings.
In Starachowice, on the other hand, visitors were detained in the local museum, unable to behave themselves. Two intoxicated twenty-year-olds, who nota bene got into the museum by crawling through the fence, appreciated only the casts of blast-furnace goosestones from the whole natural-technological exhibition. These exhibits, presented on the square in front of the museum, moved them so much that they decided to take them with them. However, a security guard noticed them and called the police.
and a daily means of transportation for area youth commuting to school.
Railroad theft is an extensive topic. Suffice it to mention the ingenious residents of Sierpów who in 2001, dressed in railroad uniforms, spent five days cutting rails with a blowtorch and delivering the metal to local purchase points in a delivery truck. In this way, they stole 300 meters of tracks. On the other hand, last year in Tarnobrzeg, the theft came to light during a routine control of companies collecting secondary raw materials. Police officers were interested in goods unloaded by customers. After a closer look, it turned out that these are fragments of rails and the thieves turned out to be a trackman with his son. The stolen parts came from the closed down track in Poreby Furmanskie.
By bus to the store
Three residents of Olawa came up with a completely different idea. They stole a bus from one of Wrocław streets and sold it for scrap. The thing came to light because the owner of the missing vehicle reported to the police station. The bus is not a bicycle, we managed to determine where it was parked for the last time and traced its path to the scrap yard. The apprehended Olawa men reportedly prepared carefully for the heist. First, they picked out the right vehicle and then called for roadside assistance. But they didn’t enjoy the six thousand dollars they got from selling the loot for long, and the bus returned to its rightful owner.
A similar unpleasant experience happened to the owner of a Kamaz truck in Poznań in 2008. He woke up one August morning to find that his dump truck had disappeared. After an intensive search, the truck was found in one of Poznań’s scrap yards. It took the police much longer to track down the thief who, sensing trouble, had prophylactically moved out of his place of residence to a camper on the nearby Rusalka lake.
Construction sites are still a tasty morsel for thieves and thefts are common there, although not always with such wild imagination as the three Warsaw residents detained last August. They drew attention to themselves when on Jerozolimskie Avenue, completely drunk, they tried to board a streetcar with steel pipes four meters long. Obviously, they had a lot of trouble with that, and after the patrol arrived the trouble increased significantly. Maciej P., Dariusz Ch. and Robert G. were taken to the sobering-up station and the unfortunate pipes were returned to the Krucza street construction site.
Other places offering unexpected benefits are institutions and enterprises in liquidation. Everyone will find something for themselves there. Just like a certain gentleman from Kamieniec Ząbkowicki (Dolnośląskie province), who decided to make his contribution to the restructuring of the health service. On the morning of September 26, 2008, police officers received a report that someone unauthorized might be loitering on the grounds of a closed hospital. They found a damaged front door, a bicycle with a bag containing an axe and a file left on it, and a truck and two busy men in the inner courtyard. One of them was an employee of a scrap metal collection point and performed an order, as he thought, completely legal. On the back of the car were already packed hospital beds, two automatic washing machines, baby cribs, a mangle and some other equipment.
Officers determined that it was one of the residents of the community who planned the “cleaning” of the hospital. He gathered things in one room that he thought were valuable, then he called a collection point claiming that the district administration had ordered him to remove scrap metal and he ordered direct transport. Simple, fast, convenient – up to 10 years in prison.
The thieves from Konin had a bigger impetus. Having found out that a certain production plant was not only in liquidation, but also poorly guarded, for a number of days they drove up to the company in their cars and took out whatever they could get their hands on. They managed to steal three tons of scrap metal before anyone realized that something was still missing from the site. There were two thieves, but only one was arrested. The other was on leave from prison.
One bridge too far
The inhabitants of the village of Dabrowsko near Tychow had a right to feel outraged when their bridge, which was a convenient crossing on a dirt road over the Lysnica stream, disappeared. Some mischief-maker had taken away six steel I-beams, 17 meters long, and now the locals could only stare helplessly into the muddy waters of the river. The police soon found out who the perpetrator of the theft was. The man turned out to be Michael O., a Canadian of Polish origin, who had bought land in the area some time earlier, including a ruined palace. Falsely convinced that the bridge also belonged to him, he decided to dismantle it and sell for scrap. He even hired a company from Białogard to dismantle the steel structure. The project proved to be unprofitable in every respect, for a bridge worth 64 thousand PLN (owned by the Municipal Sports Centre) Michael O. got only eight thousand PLN at the scrap yard, and he is facing a couple of years sentence.
The case of the bridge, although of a completely different caliber, was also handled by police officers from Gdansk. A 360-ton bridge worth two million PLN was to be built on the Nogat river. The owner, Exkom company from Warsaw, had signed an agreement to store the elements of the structure on the premises of Kruszpol company from Gdańsk. In August 2004, it was discovered that some of the steel had disappeared. The president of Kruszpol, Michał P., filed an appropriate report. The search took a week and finally the bridge was found – cut into metre-long pieces at an industrial scrap yard in the Commercial Sea Port of Gdansk.
And here the officers were in for a surprise – the cutting and sale of the steel was ordered by the president of the company where the bridge was stored, the finished fragments were taken away in containers from the company premises. At the scrap yard Michał P. signed 13 invoices for the sale of metal and the documents showed that he earned 80 thousand zlotys. Furious Exkom chairman announced that he would demand his money back. The culprit admitted to the theft, explaining the poor condition of the company and lack of funds to pay employees. Well, don’t they all have such sensitive CEOs?
Finally, a story from a different tale. If the Darwin Award (for the most stupid deeds ending in loss of life) were not awarded posthumously, a 44-year-old resident of Witnica (Lubuskie) would certainly be its winner. Last year, Stanisław K. found artillery shells in the forest and decided to sell the arsenal at a scrap metal yard. Without batting an eyelid, the scrap metal worker accepted five 105 mm mortar shells and threw them into a container with scrap metal. Luckily for everyone, the unexploded shells were spotted by local police officers patrolling the company’s premises. Just when they were wondering what to do with them, a car drove up to the gate of the collection point and Stanisław K. got out with a new batch of weapons. This time it was 76 mm caliber bullets in the number of twelve pieces and a dozen or so detonators. The whole arsenal was thrown loosely into a sports bag.
The collector told us where he had found the unexploded shells and explained that they were not dangerous because he had chopped off the fuses – saying this, he pointed to an axe and a saw lying in the trunk. Sappers were called and nearby companies were evacuated. According to the military, the explosion of just one shell could wipe out the area in a 400-meter radius. In the end, the services went to the forest, where another 20 dug-out shells were found in the indicated place, nicely stacked and ready to be taken away. The affair ended well, but not for Stanislaw K. and the employee of the purchase house. Since the threat of explosion was real, they will answer for bringing in a danger of a catastrophe of great dimensions.
They do not sow fools, unfortunately, also dishonest ones – similar anecdotes are numerous and new ones appear every day. Less funny seems to be the fact that we all pay for the vandalism of scrap metal workers.