The Case of the Stained Glass Bandit

South St. Louis police say they've finally cracked it

Caruso says Diamond found his prey through the real estate listings. "If he saw a classified ad in the RFT that said, 'Gorgeous stained glass windows' -- boom! There's the target."

Art glass crowns stair landings and flanks fireplaces in hundreds of south-city homes built between 1880 and 1940, according to historian Mimi Stiritz, a member of the board of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. "During that time the quality of the glass was equal to comparable-sized houses in Chicago or New York," she says.

Real estate agents vigorously tout such vestiges of vintage to homebuyers like Gary Hagen. Last fall Hagen was unimpressed by the exterior and garage of a big house in Holly Hills. Then he laid eyes on the 100-year-old, German-made stained glass panes scattered throughout. He saw castles and swans and flowers. "Wow," he thought. "It just kind of made you happy, when you walked in."

Luby Kelley  "bought back" his stained glass windows.
Eric Fogleman
Luby Kelley "bought back" his stained glass windows.
Cortez Tanter is being held on $7,500 bond.
Cortez Tanter is being held on $7,500 bond.

He wasn't so happy after three windows were filched one December afternoon between the time his rehab workers left and he stopped by to check their progress. He estimates his loss at $6,000 -- minimum. Like many victims, Hagen combed antique stores and hung fliers offering a $1,000 reward for his windows' safe return. Last month he finally bought replacements.

"Unfortunately, you can describe them as best you can, but I can't go out and find your windows," a police official concedes. "They're so similar, and they're all so intricate -- it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

Police believe most of the stolen glass is quickly crossing the St. Louis border, and that one might as easily find the treasures in Clayton as on eBay.

Some local dealers grumble that competitors buy stolen property but don't display it. "They'll stow the pieces in a closet and then sell them to dealers coming through from out of town, like Texas," Cottrell says.

Luby Kelley, proprietor of Junk Junkie on Hampton Avenue, says victims shouldn't throw in the towel too quickly. About three weeks after $3,200 worth of windows were stolen from his new home on Magnolia Avenue last year, Kelley's real estate agent noticed them hanging in a Maplewood antique shop.

After some maneuvering, Kelley finally "bought back" his windows for $500 -- the price the merchant told Kelley he'd paid for the panes.

"Everybody on the rehabbers' listserv is really hopeless about recovering their windows," says Kelley, making reference to www.rehabbersclub.org. "But I'm sure there's people in town you can recover them from, if you hunt hard enough."

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