EAST MACHIAS, Maine — A gorilla that has been missing since before Labor Day turned up Sunday not in Africa, but in a cornfield in Swanton, Vt.
The kidnapper, who apparently was not monkeying around once he knew the police were on his scent, dumped the stolen mechanical gorilla in the country cornfield to avoid being caught.
“Seamore,” the female gorilla, belongs to Sandy and Lowell Miller who own Sandy’s Sales flea market on Route 1. It used to sit outside the store and wave its arms and turn from side to side.
Within days of Seamore’s disappearance, the Millers put a stuffed non-moving gorilla in front of the store with a big yellow sign that said, “Where is my Mommy?”
Seamore was taken from in front of the store the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. For a time, police believed it might be in a student’s apartment in the Machias area.
The Bangor Daily News reported the theft, and then the owner of the Ohio-based company that manufactured the gorilla, gorillarobotfactory.com, read about the theft in his local paper.
“There must have been 10 Google pages of newspapers that picked up your story,” gorillarobotfactory owner Ken Booth said Monday. “We heard from people as far away as Ecuador, and I know it was in Canada and the United Kingdom for a fact.”
Booth called the Millers and offered to help. They agreed.
The Ohio man made a video and put it on YouTube quoting the BDN story. That was on Friday.
On Saturday Booth updated the video and offered a $500 reward.
An hour after the updated cyberspace detective work began, the kidnapper responded — on a YouTube video.
Dressed in black from head to toe, a masked man working with a sock puppet says in the video that he wants a $1 million ransom — then quickly adds he’s just kidding. Finally, he says he just wants to unload the beast and expresses regret that he had taken it.
Sandy Miller saw the kidnapper’s response. She said Monday it made her “damn mad” when the kidnapper said, “I didn’t know it’d be such a big deal.”
“Yes, it is a big deal,” she said of the theft of the 20-year-old gorilla. “It is my gorilla and I’ve had it a lot of years and it was part of Sandy’s Sales.” She said she suspected the kidnapper was a student with ties to Vermont.
Booth and the gorilla-snatcher e-mailed back and forth trying to arrange a pickup.
“He said he’d drop it off somewhere and call authorities. I said, ‘That’s not good enough, we need to know where it is. We want to bring our monkey home,’” he said.
Nothing happened until Sunday morning when Booth woke up to a message from the kidnapper: Seamore was in a Vermont cornfield.
Booth called the Vermont State Police. He said the dispatcher thought he was crazy.
“‘Now let me get this straight,’” he quoted the Vermont dispatcher as saying. “‘There is a robot that looks like a gorilla standing in a cornfield?’”
She said they would do nothing until the Maine State Police called. “I said, ‘What are you talking about? This is people’s property that was stolen. You can’t leave it standing in the middle of a cornfield. What if somebody else stole it?’”
The Maine State Police called Vermont, and within hours the mechanical beast was on its way to the Troop A barracks in St. Albans where it remained in protective custody Monday evening.
Apparently fearing the gorilla might be grabbed again, the police refused a local Vermont newspaper’s request Monday to take a picture. The Vermont State Police did not return a telephone call to the BDN on Monday.
But according to a Maine State Police report, the road-weary gorilla had been secured in the lieutenant’s office in Vermont.
Booth said he wanted to help retrieve Seamore because she was a classic.
“Gorillas are an endangered species. That gorilla there is a super-endangered species. There are probably not 100 of them in the United States still working,” he said.
The Millers were ecstatic that Seamore was safe. Sandy Miller said her gal pal looked a little beaten up from her travels. When Seamore left East Machias, she was a one-eyed gorilla, but Miller noticed a tear in the fur near the other eye on the YouTube video.
Although Seamore is safe, there is a slight glitch in the happy ending.
It’s going to be tough for the Millers to make the nine-hour journey to Vermont to retrieve the giant gorilla. Sandy Miller said her husband’s truck is too old and they would have to close the store.
“Maybe she can come by Greyhound,” Miller said hopefully.