Rogers County Sheriff Deputy Virgil Carter, right, found tire impressions in deep grass where investigators suspected stolen copper wire had been
stashed. The tracks lead to the spools hidden in a wooded brushy area. At left is TSCRA Special Ranger John Cummings.
A flatbed truck equipped with a welder, torch and full toolboxes is not bouyant. But the hoses attached to the torch are. They floated to the surface of New Chelsea Lake in Oklahoma, where fishermen spotted them and let local law enforcement know something out of the ordinary was at the bottom of the lake.
It was TSCRA member Mark Delozier's truck that had been stolen on
May 28 from his property near Chelsea, a town about 50 miles northeast of Tulsa. The truck and equipment, valued at $30,000, were hauled out and towed to the Delozier Ranch.
No physical evidence could be recovered from the truck due to its time underwater, and Delozier didn't know who had used a large rock to break a window out of a door to his barn. The thief had reached through the broken glass to unlock the door and enter the barn.
Inside, the thief used the ranch's skid steer to load 3 spools of stranded copper cable into the back of the 2006 Chevrolet flatbed ranch truck. The spools weighed about 1,000 pounds each and contained 750 feet of stranded copper cable each. The thief then drove away with stolen goods in the stolen truck.
The thief apparently unloaded the copper spools at a different location and then tried to hide the truck in New Chelsea Lake.
Delozier contacted the Rogers County sheriff's office, which assigned Investigator Joe Garber to the case. TSCRA Special Ranger John Cummings was contacted the same day and he joined the investigation.
Cummings and Garber started their investigation by interviewing
Delozier's current and former employees for leads. TSCRA's Operation Cow Thief was activated and a reward was offered by TSCRA for information. The investigators showed photographs of the stolen copper to owners of area scrap yards and businesses. There was no evidence the copper had been sold in the area.
Meanwhile, after local media exposure about the investigation and the reward, tips started coming in. Several of the tips pointed to 26-year-old Matthew James Fuller, Chelsea, an ex-employee of Delozier's, as a possible suspect.
On June 12, Cummings and Garber interviewed Fuller, who denied any
involvement and gave a written statement that he was not involved and had no knowledge of the crime.
That same day, an employee of Delozier contacted Cummings. This employee had heard information that Fuller was telling friends the copper was hidden on a relative's property and Fuller was going to
bury it to keep law enforcement from finding it.
Cummings and Garber contacted the relative, who gave permission for the investigators to search the property. He also mentioned he owned another rural property, about 20 miles west near Oologah Lake on the Nowata County line. He said Fuller had hunted that property regularly and this was the likely place Fuller would hide stolen property.
Cummings and Garber headed to the Nowata property to search while Rogers County Sheriff Deputy Virgil Carter continued to search the Chelsea property. Carter found tire impressions in some deep grass at the back of the property away from the buildings that lead to the 3 spools of copper hidden in the wooded brushy area
The wire had been unrolled on the ground to conceal it and the wooden spools were hidden in the trees. Some of the copper had been cut into 2-foot lengths and bent in half to make them easier to carry. It is common for thieves to cut large amounts of metal into smaller lengths to avoid suspicion when they sell it. The investigators found a set of cable cutters at the site and preserved them for possible DNA testing.
Later that day, Cummings and Garber called Fuller to the Chelsea Police Department for a second interview. Even with evidence mounting against him, Fuller denied involvement and consented to provide DNA swabs for comparison.
Five days later, Special Ranger Cummings was called by Fuller's attorney saying Fuller wanted to cooperate and be truthful about the case.
On Tuesday, June 18, Fuller met Garber at the attorney's office and gave a full voluntary statement. He'd ridden his motorcycle to the New Chelsea Lake area and had walked to Delozier's barn and broken in. He knew where the equipment keys were kept, which made it somewhat simple to use ranch equipment to carry out the theft.
He drove the stolen truck to his relative's property, dumped the wire and returned to New Chelsea Lake, where he dumped the truck in the water. He retrieved his motorcycle and rode away.
Later he returned to the copper spools and unrolled the wire to make it harder to find, then started cutting it into the shorter lengths for later sale. He had planned to wait for the situation to cool down before he started selling the lengths of copper, because he didn't want to get caught.
Fuller was arrested by Garber and placed in the Rogers County jail on the charges of burglary II, grand larceny and malicious destruction of private property. He has been released on $5,000 bond and is awaiting court proceedings.
TSCRA thanks Rogers County Investigator Joe Garber; Rogers County Deputy Virgil Carter; Chelsea Chief of Police Chris Bohl and his staff; and Shane Reynolds, local private investigator, all of whom participated in the investigation.
"Thief Sunk by Floating Hoses" is from The Cattleman magazine's August 2013 issue.