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CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Thieves take off with heavy, historic Soulard church bell valued at nearly $30,000

By Cameron Bopp

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — A historic Soulard church is asking for the community’s help tracking down the thieves who were caught on camera stealing a heavy, bronze bell displayed outside the church.

“Tell the ding dong to bring the bell back!” parishioner Todd Long says.

Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church on South 7th Street was established in 1849. Father Bruce Forman says the bell dates back to that very year; it’s from the first building the congregation gathered at.

“You just can’t replace something like that,” Fr. Forman told First Alert 4.

An incident report from St. Louis Metropolitan Police details how the crime took place overnight last Tuesday into early Wednesday. Fr. Forman says it was Monday that the bell had been knocked down from its yoke and brackets and left behind. He believes the heist was carried out in two parts.

“I think it was so heavy that [the thieves] probably thought they were going to steal it the first time when they knocked it off the structure but found out it was so heavy, so they came back a night later,” Forman said.

Forman and the congregation initially thought the bell was made of cast iron, meaning if the crooks wanted to melt it down and sell it, Forman says it wouldn’t be worth more than a couple hundred dollars. Churchgoers agreed.

“It’s not doing them no good. Nobody’s going to be able to sell that thing,” Long said.

It wasn’t until Forman reached out to an appraiser Monday that he found out the bell is made of bronze and is valued at nearly $30,000. The appraiser also estimates the entire bell assembly to weigh around 800 pounds.

“That whole assembly that was taken would equate to what I quoted – about $25,000,” Don Hartmann of The Verdin Company says. “If we were to try to make that exact bell, it would be closer to $30,000 for them to decorate the bell and add all the designs.”

Hartmann’s business is based out of Cincinnati and works with bell clients domestically and also internationally.

“About 90% of the people we do business with are churches, so it was not surprising [Fr. Forman] reached out to me,” Hartmann. “These thefts, unfortunately, are also not all that uncommon. Metal can be worth a lot of money, like the bronze bell.”

Forman says the church does not plan to replace the bell and isn’t concerned about the financial loss.

“It’s not so much the amount of the value of the bell — the insurance will cover it,” Forman says. It’s the fact that it’s symbolic of the many years this church has been serving.”

Forman says the bell is 174 years old and has seen multiple generations of parishioners.

“It’s just sad someone to be so opportunistic and take advantage of us,” Forman says.

Forman goes on to say the church is also installing more cameras and better lighting near the South 7th Street entrance.

SLMPD detectives did not provide First Alert 4 an update on the status of the investigation but did confirm their involvement. Anyone who knows anything about the theft is asked to call SLMPD.

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