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Mystery of San Diego County's stolen statues continues

Reporting from San Diego — The bronze moose is back. So too are the three metallic children, discovered even before they'd been reported missing.

But more than a dozen other statues swiped from lawns in northern San Diego County over the last six months remain on the loose, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Among the missing are a cast-iron woman in a flowing dress (stolen from Del Mar), two bronze horses (Solana Beach), a Thai Buddha (Vista), a life-size woman with a water pitcher (San Marcos), a Virgin Mary (Ramona) and a dolphin (San Marcos).

The moose, weighing 600 pounds, was found last weekend along a horse trail near its owner's home in rural Ramona. The metallic children were found behind an apartment building in Oceanside.

In both cases, sharp-eyed residents are credited for the finds.

After an initial news story last week, the Sheriff's Department got a call from a motorist in Texas who was following a pickup truck with a bronze moose and a bronze horse in the back. She even provided pictures but, alas, they proved not to be the locally purloined statues.

Why the thefts? Various theories: for resale (the moose market is booming), for melting down for scrap or for pranksterish vandalism.

"Some were taken from backyards, some from frontyards, some rural, some urban, some gated communities," said Sgt. Christina Bavencoff. "There just isn't a consistent M.O."

Most of the statues are valued at several hundred dollars; but some, like the bronze horse taken from Rancho Santa Fe, are worth several thousand. Most are metal, but some are wood or ceramic.

On Tuesday, San Diego County authorities appealed to the public for help: Be on the lookout for anyone with a bronze sea turtle (Encinitas) or a bronze boy and girl on a park bench (Ramona) or other collectibles that seem out of place.

Bavencoff advises statue owners to secure their objets d'art to the ground (although in some cases, the thieves cut chains), take pictures (many statues look similar) and maybe scratch an identifying mark somewhere on the statue.

Other regions are seeing their own variants of such thefts. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of thieves who stole five bronze headstones from the Downey Cemetery.

For the San Diego County cases, tipsters are asked to call the Sheriff's Department at (858) 565-5200, or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.

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