COLUMBIA — When four reindeer and a Santa in his sleigh were stolen from her residence Monday, Betty Wetmore didn’t think she would ever see them again.
She called the police to report the incident and then started praying.
"I was praying all day that I would go to bed and wake up the next morning and they would all be back in their place," Betty Wetmore said.
It wasn’t long before the light-up decorations were returned.
Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jill Wieneke said in an e-mail that several reports filed late Monday night and early Tuesday morning all claimed the same thing — someone was stealing Christmas decorations.
In the e-mail, Wieneke said a witness who had noticed a suspicious vehicle in the neighborhood took down its license plate number and contacted the police Tuesday. Wieneke said Officer Steve Wilmoth traced the vehicle to the Sigma Chi fraternity, and Wilmoth and fellow Officer Vance Pitman visited the fraternity and began to question some of the members.
Wieneke said fraternity members Jackson Hobbs and Alexander Hanson spoke with the officers and admitted to stealing the decorations from the Wetmores' Skylark Drive residence as well as from several other houses in order to decorate their fraternity. Hobbs and Hanson were arrested on a Class C felony charge because the stolen items were valued at more than $500.
Sigma Chi President Kyle Haberberger said in an e-mail that Hobbs and Hanson have been involved in the fraternity since the beginning of the semester. Haberberger said the two will appear before their chapter's judicial board system, which is meant to hold its members accountable for actions violating the fraternity's code of conduct. He added that the incident involved only the two individuals arrested and that their house would be decorated for the holidays with legally obtained items.
After the two men were arrested, they rode with the police officers to help identify which decorations they had stolen from which houses, Wieneke said.
“I was inside and a light started shining through the front window, and my husband was upstairs watching the Missouri basketball game," Betty Wetmore said. "I walked outside and saw the police car, talked to the officer and was told the two were in the back seat. I shook my finger at them, and I knew I had an answered prayer."
The Wetmores were able to reclaim their decorations at the police station.
Richard Wetmore, Betty's husband, said they were glad to have them back, but the lights on them had been ripped up and would no longer light up.
“I spent two hours working on them yesterday, and I was only able to get one of them working again," he said.
When describing the morning that she realized the decorations were missing, Betty said she tried her best to fight back the tears.
“I started crying because each one meant something to me. I bought one every year at the Hearnes Center," Betty Wetmore said. "I got the snowman at the Rock Bridge craft show 15 years ago."