Well-wishers restock tree lot hit by thieves

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- In the spirit of the holidays, the charitable have restocked a sales lot raided by thieves of 92 Christmas trees that were to be used in a fund raiser.

Thieves cleared out nearly one-third of the Affton Athletic Association's trees early on Dec. 5 or Dec. 6, stealing away with spruces, pines and balsam firs from the lot serving as a fund-raising project to pay for capital improvements at the group's ice rink in Fenton.

Tire tracks on a nearby field were the only clue about how the trees, worth about $3,000, were taken.

In the days since media reports of the theft, the Brentwood Optimists Club donated 15 evergreen specimens. On Monday, Leroy Rood, owner of Tea Ridge wholesale tree farm in Hermann, delivered 100 more. Along the way, some area residents have dropped by to make $10 or $20 donations, even if they didn't want to buy a tree.

"I hope we can sell this many," said a grateful Erica Parks, a member of the athletic association. "I wouldn't want any of these to go to waste."

In the meantime, authorities continued trying to find the thieves, who some speculate may look to set up their own lot to peddle the trees for a discount.

The dilemma for investigators: how to tell which trees are stolen.

"It's not like the stolen trees have distinguishing marks," St. Louis County police Lt. Dennis Woodlawn said. "People call us, there's a tree lot, a tree lot, a tree lot. We check them out. But it's hard to prove that certain trees are missing."

The athletic association runs recreational and competitive hockey games for children and teens in Affton and Fenton.

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