Local News

Chapel Hill Residents and Their Stolen Decor Reunited

Posted December 8, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The Grinch came early this year for some Chapel Hill residents, but like the Dr. Seuss childrens' book, this story has a happy ending.

Police raided a Chapel Hill fraternity house Sunday morning and found dozens of stolen Christmas decorations. Monday, the lights and lawn ornaments were returned to their rightful owners.

Police say they were led to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house by one of the theft victims. So far, no charges have been filed in the case, but police say they still have a lot of interviews to conduct. While the homeowners are glad they have their decorations back, many say the spirit of the season is still tarnished.

A Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer decoration was stolen from Katie Murphy's yard. After a week he has been returned.

"I was heartbroken, just crushed, you feel so violated." The folks in this neighborhood have been hit four years in a row. Jane Cousins, of the Chapel Hill Police Department, says some homeowners have resorted to chaining their decorations to trees.

"It happens every year. This is the largest number we've had taken and this is the first time we traced the majority back to one location."

That location is the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at the University of North Carolina where police found 150 stolen decorations. Homeowners, like Tonya Thompson, were disappointed to find out that college students may be involved.

"It's one thing to do practical jokes on each other when you're in fraternities, but it's another thing to do it to the general public, it's totally out of line."

Nicholas Richitt, a member of another UNC fraternity, wants to make it clear that his fraternity doesn't condone what happened.

"I'm just a little worried that people think this is representative of all fraternities on campus when that is definitely not the case." Chancellor Michael Hooker used even stronger words to describe his feelings about the incident. In a statement he says he is "outraged, saddened and offended and apologizes profusely to the victims."

The national office of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has set up a meeting with the school and it's regional representative tomorrow. But neither the fraternity nor the school will take any action until the criminal investigation is completed.

Photographer:Ron Pittman