(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
ESSEX -- There's only one word Larry McMullin, owner of McMullin Taxidermy, could use to describe the way he felt when he discovered his prize full body mount in his shop had the antlers sawed off a little over a week ago: sick.
"I still don't understand why they sawed it -- maybe it was just the icing on the cake," said McMullin. He'd been offered $1,500 for the rack, which, without the antlers, is now worth about $100.
The problem got even worse last week, when McMullin realized that 13 big racks of full body mounts of whitetail deer from his horn room were also missing -- a loss to himself and his clientele. John Backfisch, owner of John's Taxidermy at Arab, was also hit by the "taxidermy ring" on Dec. 29. Backfisch declined to give specific information, as he was advised by the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department.
However, Chief Deputy Leo McElrath said that the thieves were after deer antlers (skull plate and all, not sawed off) -- which appear to be worth quite a bit of money, deputies found after investigation.
"Apparently there is more of a market for them than we realized," he said, noting some are listed online for large amounts of money. The antlers are used for knife handles, mountings and pen sets. "It's pretty serious -- and we're taking it more serious than what you would think."
Other than the sawed-off horns, McMullin said it wasn't immediately apparent that there had been a break-in, although he found later how the thieves had gained entry.
"I couldn't tell anybody had been in the place," he said. "Everything was put back the way it was -- it didn't look like there was anything disturbed."
That's why it took a few days to realize mounts were missing. But when he realized one was supposed to be there and wasn't, he began looking through paperwork and realized 13 big racks were missing, which belonged to 12 individuals.
"We've got a 12-year-old boy that's lost the rack of a lifetime," said McMullin. "It's devastating to our customers -- there's no way of putting a value on someone's trophy whitetail deer."
Backfisch agreed. "There isn't a value you can put on it, because of the sentimental value," he said. "That, to me, is not replaceable."
Most of the customers, McMullin said, seem to understand the situation, and that it's difficult to keep a thief out.
It's a loss to the shop owners as well. "It's going to cost me several thousand dollars by the time it's all over," said McMullin. For instance, he charges $325 for each mount, so that's lost income. Additionally, he had the full body mount that was vandalized, plus upgrades in security he will make to the store, which before the break-in, was "as secure as we thought we could be."
"We are reinforcing our windows with metal and getting steel cages for the doors," he said. "We're going to make it a whole lot harder for (thieves) to get them out."
Although the thefts aren't unheard of, they are the first in the area. They could be up for resale to make other goods, or to mount, among other uses.
"The guys took big antlers, so it's probably either for personal use or to sell," said Mark Reed, a conservation agent for Stoddard County. The Missouri Department of Conservation is involved in the investigation. "With as many as they took, they're probably planning on selling them."
McMullin said he first thought the mounts would be used to make chandeliers or lamps, but doesn't think so any more. He said he now knows there is a market for whitetail deer antlers. "I don't know where the market is, but that's something we're trying to learn about right now and we're investigating," he said.
"Who knows what these guys are thinking," said Carl Hefner, Stoddard County sheriff. The thefts remain under investigation, and his staff are "running down leads." He asked that anyone with information call the department, 573-
McElrath said his department is also running down leads and looking for suspects. Information can also be give to his department by calling 573-238-
Backfisch said he wants to see justice done, with the racks recovered.
"I'm a Christian fellow," he said. "The people that do these type things, I know they'll have to answer to the Lord someday."
>13 big racks of full body mounts of whitetail deer were stolen from horn room at McMullin Taxidermy in Essex.
>Prize full body mount at McMullin Taxidermy was also stolen.
>An undisclosed number of antlers were stolen from John's Taxidermy at Arab.
>Thieves were after deer antlers (skull plate and all, not sawed off) -- which appear to be worth quite a bit of money, according to deputies.