NAUGATUCK — Police on Wednesday charged a borough man with stealing and scrapping century-old brass gates from Grove Cemetery.
Police suspect that Ryan McCarthy, an admitted metal scrapper, stole the heavy gates and tied them to the roof of his car in June.
McCarthy, 39, was charged with criminal mischief and larceny in connection to the thefts. Huge hunks of the gates, which weighed hundreds of pounds, are believed to have been cut up and melted down for scrap.
“If I had to guess, I would say that they are from the early 1900s,” said Dave Roberts, the cemetery superintendent. “They don’t make things like that anymore. That stuff is irreplaceable.”
Multiple sections of the gates which guarded the Cross Street entryway to the burial grounds were swiped sometime in early June. Weeks later, a second theft of another section of the gate was reported, which brought the total loss to $7,500.
The gates showed obvious signs of damage on Wednesday. Pins that hold the sections together were broken and a large middle portion that would stop car traffic was gone.
Roberts said following the theft, the cemetery took several measures in an attempt to stop would-be thieves, including adding motion sensor lights.
He even painted the brass gates at the opposite side of the cemetery — the entrance at Route 63 — black so it was harder for thieves to spot them at night.
He had a hard time painting them because they looked great with the green patina, but he said he had no choice.
Thefts from cemeteries have been on the rise in recent years, he pointed out.
“People will steal anything they see laying down, even flowers,” he said. “It’s disgusting. How could you steal from a cemetery?”
While checking with area scrap yards, police learned that a man with a gate strapped to the roof of his car had tried to sell the metal at Albert Bros. in Waterbury, but they refused to buy it.
An employee at another scrap yard in the city, Eastern Economic Recycling, told police the yard had bought pieces of a gate that had “detailed workmanship” on June 9, the same day the gate was reported stolen. A total of 321 pounds of brass were scrapped that day by McCarthy, a scrap yard employee told police.
Police also learned a second gate was sold for scrap to Continental Scrap in Wolcott on the same day it was reported stolen, according to McCarthy’s arrest warrant.
McCarthy admitted to police that he sometimes scraps air conditioners he finds on the side of the road, but he denied having anything to do with the thefts. But police noted the roof of his car was damaged and had spots of green on the back that matched the color of patina found on the stolen gate.
Although McCarthy said another man who he knew as “B” had sold the gates, McCarthy couldn’t identify the man in any photographs police presented to him.
Naugatuck Deputy Police Chief Joshua Bernegger could not confirm if police have seen a rise in thefts from cemeteries in recent months or years, but said police have seen an increase in the theft of scrap metals. He noted that goal posts were recently stolen from Naugatuck Youth Soccer by thieves who were later caught after scrapping the aluminum. Police believe they were stolen to help the thieves pay for illegal drugs.
“Almost without a doubt, there is an addiction involved in all of these cases,” Bernegger said.
Laws require pawn shops and scrap yards to document the material they bring in and who is selling it. Many times, they won’t take material they suspect is stolen and they help police track down suspects, Bernegger said.
McCarthy, of 46 Lines Hill St., was charged with two counts each of third-degree larceny, first-degree criminal mischief and third-degree criminal trespassing. He was held on bonds totaling $30,000 and is expected to appear in Waterbury Superior Court on Nov. 23.