The answer to a puzzling string of alphabet thefts that left Greencastle residents at a loss for words this week came to a surprising end in the form of a small shoebox left mysteriously on the steps of the city police station Thursday morning.
Inside the box, officers were relieved to discover a stack of about 100 plastic letter "R's" believed to be the same ones that suddenly disappeared from signs in front of local businesses earlier in the week.
"That was probably the biggest surprise of this whole thing -- that they brought them back," GPD Det. Randy Seipel said.
Seipel, along with Chief Tom Sutherlin and officer Albert Epple, were able to use the description of the car seen delivering the shoebox between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. Thursday to find a woman who led them to two local teenagers who police say admitted to the crimes.
Seipel told the BannerGraphic Thursday that Michael White, 19, and Jessica Winings, 18, admitted they were the ones who stole the letters from as many as two-dozen businesses, doctors' offices and restaurants late Monday night.
After he completes his report, Seipel says he plans to turn it over to the county prosecutor at which time he expects the two roommates will each face one count of criminal conversion, a class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum one-year prison sentence and up to a $5,000 fine.
White and Winings were released Thursday after being questioned by police but were informed that they would likely have to appear in court to face charges.
As for the motive of the thefts, Seipel said the pair admitted to taking the "R's" with the intention of adding them to Winings' personal collection of letters. It is believed the teens started out that night by taking just a few "R's" on the east side of town, but before they knew it they had made their way across the entire city.
"They thought it would be funny to take a couple, but they didn't realize it would go as far as it did," Seipel said.
Even the teens were said to be surprised when they walked into the conference room at the police station and got their first glimpse of the 103 plastic R's that caused public distress and garnered media inquiries from as far away as the British Broadcasting Corp. in London, England, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto.
Seipel believes it was some of that publicity that helped the teens decide to come clean.
"They were both upset and very remorseful for their actions," he said.
Now that they have the lost letters in their possession, officers say they intend to see that each and every one of them, valued at between $1 and $5 each, is returned to its rightful owner. They're asking anyone who experienced a loss to contact them so the painstaking process of matching them up with their owners can begin.
"We're pretty confident that we can get most of them back," Seipel said.