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Historic buildings' copper downspouts and gutters are latest targets of thieves hoping to cash in on high prices of metals
Date published: 3/7/2011
By LAURA MOYER
Sometime in the night, the thief or thieves sneaked up beside the Mary Washington House in downtown Fredericksburg. They ignored the padlocked back gate, finding some other way into the fenced garden.
And by the time they left, unnoticed by neighbors, they had three of the building's heavy copper downspouts with them.
The crime, reported to police Wednesday, was just the latest in a string of brazen thefts in which copper downspouts were pulled right off city buildings and hauled away.
At the Mary Washington House, it was the second such theft in just a few weeks. Downspout thieves also hit the historic property--the home of George Washington's mother,
The property is owned by Preservation Virginia, which operates three other historic sites in the city. The organization's Hugh Mercer Apothecary on Caroline Street also was targeted by downspout thieves just before Valentine's Day, said Myra Wiggins, administrator of the city sites.
The downspout crimes are the latest twist in copper thefts spurred by increasing prices in the recycling market. Copper wires and copper piping from building sites have long been a target for thieves throughout the area, according to local law enforcement agencies.
Just since the first of the year, 11 copper thefts have been reported in Fredericksburg, said police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe. Seven of those involved copper downspouts or gutters.
Another downtown building, at Caroline and Lewis streets, also reported the theft of one of its copper downspouts last week. The building's owner said he has been told a replacement copper spout will cost about $600 for material and labor.
In most cases, Bledsoe said, the value of the stolen downspouts is at least $200, making the crime a felony.
Copper appeals to criminals because they can get cash for it at salvage yards, which have recently been paying from about $2.65 to almost $3 a pound, depending on the type of copper being recycled.
And Bledsoe noted that older, unpainted copper downspouts are an easy target--easy to spot by their distinctive brownish-green patina, and easy to steal because the thieves don't actually have to break in to get them.
Many of the city thefts have been from commercial or historic buildings that are unoccupied at night.