Bronze vases stolen from cemetery recovered

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Police have recovered many of the 500 bronze vases that were stolen from a Phoenix cemetery earlier this week.

Investigators on Wednesday identified three of the four suspects arrested in connection with the theft, which happened sometime between 4 p.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. Monday.

Detectives specializing in metal theft got a tip Monday night from Vehicle Liquidators, a recycling business that buys and sells metal, that two men were trying to sell some of the vases.

Based on that tip, officers found 25 vases and took Matthew Sheets, 34, and an unidentified 44-year-old man into custody Tuesday afternoon.

In questioning Sheets and the second man, detectives developed probable cause to arrest Troy Yancy, 47, and Acacia Odowd, 36, in connection with the theft.

Officers made another arrest at M & S Recycling, a scrap yard near 37th and Grand avenues, Thursday evening. That person has been identified as manager Edel Rojas-Calderon, 30.

Officer James Holmes said Rojas-Calderon called investigators and confessed to having the remaining vases and agreed to turn them over to police. Detectives recovered approximately 280 vases at the scrap yard.

Holmes said Rojas-Calderon admitted to loading the vases into his truck and hiding them at two separate locations. He was booked into jail for trafficking in stolen property. 

The recovered vases, each of which weighs about 6 pounds and is valued at about $480, have been returned to Phoenix Memorial Cemetery.

"In talking with representatives of the cemetery, their phones have been going off the hook this week from concerned family members calling to check the whereabouts of the vase belonging to their loved one," Clark said. "It's been very emotional for them, fielding all those calls and talking to all those families this week."

Holmes said the grave of Officer Nick Erfle, who was killed in the line of duty in September 2007, was one of those robbed of its bronze vase.

With the approach of Memorial Day, often a busy day at the cemetery, those who manage Phoenix Memorial are especially pleased to have the vases back where they belong.

Metal theft is a major issue throughout the country. Between high prices for several metals and the struggling economy, metal theft is on the rise. It's quick cash for the thieves, but it costs Phoenix residents and business more than $30 million each year.

At the start of the year, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who has been a victim of copper thieves himself, launched a special task force to create initiatives and legislation to deal with metal thieves.