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Woman Foils a Grinch : Stolen Christmas Decorations Are Returned to Grateful Owners

Times Staff Writer

It was Christmas all over again for Marc and Sue Vertin on Tuesday morning when a young woman appeared on their Mission Viejo doorstep toting the giant Grinch and Max the Dog decorations that were stolen from their lawn last month.

“It’s the perfect ending to a story,” Marc Vertin said. “I feel like my faith in mankind is restored.”

The 20-year-old Costa Mesa woman “asked if we were the house that had the Grinch,” Sue Vertin said. Told she was at the right place, the woman said, “ ‘Well, I have it,’ ” and returned the 6-foot-tall plywood Grinch, which was broken in half, along with 2-foot-high Max the Dog, who had lost some antlers.

“It really took a lot of courage for her to return the decorations,” Sue Vertin said.

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Marc Vertin agreed.

“She could have just dropped them on the lawn and left.”

Instead she stayed and explained what happened. A week before Christmas, the young woman said, she was at a Christmas party in Costa Mesa and wanted to show some friends the decorated houses on Loma Verde in Mission Viejo, which included the Vertins’.

“It’s a Christmas tradition for me and my family, and this year I wanted to share it with my friends,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

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When she and her friends left to go look at the decorations about 11:30 that night, a young man from the party, who she said was not a friend, followed them in his truck. By the time they reached the Vertins’ house, which was decorated in the theme of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the lights were off. So they headed back to the party, she said. Except for the young man.

“When he finally got back to the party, he had the Grinch and the dog in the back of his truck,” the woman said. “I guess he was planning on making a grand entrance.”

He Got a Good Scolding

Instead, the man was scolded by the others and he left the party, she said.

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“I made three attempts to get in touch with him, and finally the Sunday before Christmas I went to (where he works) because I heard the Grinch was there,” she said.

The man told her he wanted to keep the figures until he had a chance to trace their outlines, the woman said. “I gave him until the Wednesday before Christmas before going back (to his place of work) but couldn’t get in touch with him. Then I heard about the story of the theft in the newspaper and I got nervous.”

That week, while the rest of her family continued the tradition and visited the elaborately decorated homes on Loma Verde, the woman stayed home with her 16-month-old son.

“My Christmas was ruined because I felt responsible,” she said. “I was the one who led him up there and I was the only one who knew what (the Grinch) meant and where it belonged.”

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But she said she became reluctant to return the decorations because “people would think I stole it, and I didn’t want to get in trouble.”

Nevertheless, on Tuesday she borrowed a friend’s truck, went to the construction site where the man worked, found the broken decorations in the trash bin and took them to Mission Viejo.

Her good deed reinstilled the Christmas spirit in Marc and Sue Vertin.

“The decorations may not be reusable, but now we’ll definitely do it again next year; now we have to,” Sue Vertin said. “I don’t know what we’ll do to make it more secure, but we’ll do something.”

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