The Latest | Southern California breaking news and trends
Crime & Justice

Copper theft epidemic meets a rash of illegal metal yards

Photo by tanakawho via Flickr Creative Commons

A suspected copper thief was arrested last week by LAPD detectives after DNA tests from clothing left at the scene pointed to the man.

The story of Edward Curtis Menhaffy, 28, is the "classic tale of drug addict who steals to maintain his habit," said Lt. Paul Vernon, commanding officer of the Mission Detective Division in a news release.

Property crimes often go unsolved and "are the real whodunits," Vernon added, calling DNA, "a genetic digital photograph after the fact."

Menhaffy was arrested on August 16 at his residence in Panorama City, less than two miles from a house where new copper pipes had been cut away months earlier.

Police say the case presents the full anatomy of a copper theft:

Elsewhere, authorities are finding stripped wires from street lights and stolen park statues at illegal metal scrap yards around California. 

A 200-pound bell was taken from a church in Pico Rivera and Modesto's airport lost its runway lights twice in what officials are calling an epidemic of copper and steel thefts.

The L.A. Times reports that the material can be resold to Asian factories, and that unpermitted scrap yards, appearing around Los Angeles County, can take advantage of local port access.

A dozen unpermitted yards have been shut down in the past year by LAPD Detective Kevin Romine, who estimates that half of all the non-iron metal in local scrap yards is stolen.