Dept. of Criminal Weirdness: Man Steals Totem Pole With Help From Cops

The Rotary Viewpoint totem pole before it was hauled away.
UPDATE: West Seattle Blog says the identity of the mysterious second stolen totem pole has been revealed. Details after the jump.

This has to be the weirdest totem pole story you've ever heard. And if it isn't, congratulations: You've been blessed with some supremely out-there totem pole stories.

The Rotary Viewpoint Park was just a pile of shrubs until the early '70s when the West Seattle Rotary Club asked to take it off the city's hands and clean it up. When they were done, the rotary installed an 18-foot totem pole symbolizing the early history of Puget Sound Indians in the park's center.

The pole was carved by Northwest Indian Robin Young. It had stood in the park for 24 years until last Monday, when West Seattle police became unwitting accomplices to a crime.

A friend of the rotary was driving down 35th Avenue when he noticed a commotion. It was 6 PM, rush hour, and there in the park was a crane stuck deep in the mud.

Next to the crane was a tow truck, trying to get it unstuck. And next to the tow was a cop, directing traffic. The crane eventually got loose and hauled away the totem pole. What the operator told the tow truck driver or the cop is anyone's best guess. But apparently, no one asked if he was actually allowed to take the massive sculpture.

This friend of the rotary called the rotary. Who in turn called West Seattle Blog. Who then, we must acknowledge here, did nearly all the leg work required to break this case.

(Seriously, we'd all be short one weird totem pole story if the heroes of hyper-local hadn't gotten off their ass and made some phone calls. Go thank them by saying something nice here.)

Anyway, West Seattle Blog calls the Parks Department and the police precinct. Was the totem pole due for a refurbishing? No. Did anyone ask for it be taken down? No. Well then where the hell is it? No one knew.

Rotary Club President Amy Lee Derenthal says that's when her "rotarian investigators" sprung into action.

The crane company had been paid in cash. But they offered to drive the Rotary members out to the house where they delivered the pole.

So the Rotary members and the crane guys drive all the way out to Lake Sawyer. No one's home. But they talk to neighbors and get a name. (They also note, ominously, that the owner of the Lake Sawyer house has a really big garage. Big enough to hide a large chunk of wood.)

Now that they have a name, the Rotary members hand off their investigation to the police. And it doesn't take but a couple days before they've recovered the stolen goods.

As West Seattle Blog reported last night, the totem pole was found on a trailer in an impound Salem, Ore. And not only has this stolen totem pole crossed state lines, it also has company: Police discovered another totem pole of unknown origins lying next to it.

As for the thief, all police are saying thus far is that they've arrested a 69-year-old North Admiral resident. Apparently the man has places in both West Seattle and Lake Sawyer. Motive? That we don't know. But we're hoping to hear back from Southwest Precinct Lt. Steve Paulsen as soon as he gets out of an afternoon meeting.

Rotary President Derenthal says the club is already making plans to have the pole returned, refurbished and put back in its rightful place. And though she acknowledges that there's still some story left to tell, she says the case of the missing totem pole has already made its way into local lore.

"I said on Tuesday, 'We'll always remember this year,'" she says. "The year the totem pole was stolen. I mean, this is going to go down in history."

UPDATED: The 18-foot pole made the trip "home" over the weekend.

It's now being kept in a secret location by the Parks Department. Meanwhile, the mystery pole found alongside the Rotary Viewpoint totem has been turned over to police.

UPDATED: The mystery-solvers at WSB say the second pole found alongside the Rotary Viewpoint totem in Oregon was originally stolen from Renton.

That may explain why police have yet to file charges against the 69-year-old man who's suspected in the first theft: a wider investigation would take more time to pursue.

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