CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's a thriving illegal enterprise these days: crooks making off with manhole covers, metal gutters and copper pipes from homes, then selling the items to unscrupulous scrap metal dealers.
Now, there's a new wrinkle: thieves are targeting antique brass mailbox covers from one Avalon Park neighborhood.
CBS2's Mike Parker reports the mail boxes are vanishing, one by one.
Since the thieves started hitting the South Side townhouse complex near 81st Street and Ingleside Avenue a week and a half ago, they've come back again and again in the dead of night. They have now pried at least a dozen of the brass items out of the brick façade, leaving gaping holes where the decorative mailbox covers used to be.
Resident Rose Smith says, "I would like to get a glimpse of them or catch them so you can call the police and have them quickly arrested."
Another resident, Jack McCrary, almost got such a glimpse at 3 a.m. Wednesday
"I heard a noise," he says. "I thought it was somebody shaking to see if my door was unlocked. It never occurred to me that they would be stealing my mailbox."
Smith says, for all she knows, they'll be making off with the wrought iron railing on her front porch.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th)says it is all about money, and he is right. The average current scrap price for brass is a $1.25 per pound. Given the 3-pound weight of each mailbox cover, a dozen of them could bring $45.
Sawyer wants to tighten up the laws governing scrap metal companies, to make it more risky for them to buy stolen goods.
"Give them heavy disincentives for those that are illegally obtaining these items and those that are illegally accepting them," he says.
Sawyer agrees that arresting the thieves "would be a wonderful thing, but you've got to catch them."
Why don't the residents of the townhouses chip in and buy a video surveillance camera? One resident answered simply, "they'll probably steal that too."
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