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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mystery at the courthouse

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ivy Herron photo

The "little visitor" (circled) doll is back safe and sound under the courthouse Christmas tree with a new host of friends after it's recent dollnapping experiences at the hands of a prankster.

Who knew that a picture in The Brazil Times would cause so much chicanery at the Clay County Courthouse the past few weeks?

A mischievous prankster swiped the "little visitor" doll from under the courthouse Christmas tree on Dec. 2, leaving a ransom note in its place.

From all accounts it read something like this: "Five candy bars or the doll gets it! Leave the ransom under the tree before noon in two days."

Commissioner David Parr learned about the dollnapping after the commissioners' meeting on Dec. 5.

"I don't know who did it," he said. "But I do know there are suspects in the case."

That very day another note appeared under the tree. Apparently the initial ransom deadline had been missed because no one found the original note.

In the spirit of the season, the ransom was extended two more days, but this was the last chance to get the doll back.

The hunt for the dollnapper was on, and Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton was contacted about the crime scene.

"When the Auditor's office contacted me about the incident, we got right on it," he told The Brazil Times. "There were multiple suspects right from the beginning. We had one suspect in particular we were watching very closely until we found out they didn't like chocolate."

The next day a new doll appeared under the tree with an attached note: "As the girlfriend of the "little visitor," I want my boyfriend back and will remain under the tree until his return!"

An investigative team was assembled for the case.

Soon, other dolls showed up under the tree in a show of solidarity for the "little visitor." A pair of Amish dolls and another male doll soon found their place under the tree.

There are even reports that a naked baby doll (which disappeared briefly before returning in a diaper, then, after disappearing again, appeared wrapped in a blanket) appeared under the tree. Rumors are circulating that it was the child of the "little visitor" and his girlfriend, but that couldn't be verified.

The five dolls stood vigil under the Christmas tree while courthouse employees scratched their heads trying to figure out who the culprit was.

With so much activity around that Christmas tree, you'd think someone saw something, but no one did.

No one's talking, and if they do, the answers are pretty much the same no matter which floor or office you visit: "We don't know anything. We weren't involved."

Courthouse workers might not have seen what happened, but there are security cameras in the courthouse. It didn't take long for someone to check the footage for details of the crime.

Scott Hill, the county's information technology expert, was there for the shocking revelations the day of the ransom delivery.

"The cameras are in plain view for anyone to see," Hill said. "We saw a suspect walk back and forth in front of the tree a couple of times. Then, just before the ransom was picked up, a broom was used to push the camera aside."

With the ransom delivered, you'd think the game was over, but it wasn't.

The five bite-sized candy bars left for payment weren't good enough. Frustrated by a lack of chocolate, another note was left, doubling the ransom to 10 full-size candy bars to be delivered within 24 hours.

Things only became worse for investigators when questioning the puzzled suspect, who admitted picking up the candy, but only to return it to a candy dish.

The investigation was at a standstill, but the mystery was far from over.

Worried the "little visitor" would miss the courthouse Christmas party on Dec. 16, people were planning to buy bags of candy to pay for the return of the doll, while a few found no humor in the prank at all and thought the whole situation was in bad taste.

On the day of the final ransom deadline, the abducted doll was found safe under the Christmas tree. A change-of-heart had come over the dollnapper and they didn't want to keep it from the party. But the change-of-heart wasn't complete, because the dollnapper announced in a note they were still waiting on the ransom.

The "little visitor" is back under the tree with new dolls to keep him company, but there's fingerpointing in every direction as people try to figure out who the trickster was.

Many of those fingers pointed to one man, Clay County Treasurer Jack Withers.

Known for loving a good joke, Withers denies any involvement with the prank.

"I didn't have anything to do with it," he said while laughing. "I wasn't involved, and you can take that to the bank."

Withers told The Brazil Times the silliness of the prank helped people let off a little of the holiday stress and the pressure of closing out the year around the courthouse.

Others agree with him.

"I don't know who did it, but it was funny how things just kept happening," said a courthouse worker who wished to remain anonymous, but admitted to being an amateur Sherlock Holmes. "Every day you came in to something new and silly happening under that tree. It sure kept you guessing what on earth was going to happen next."

After news of the paper's investigation into the matter got around the courthouse, the confessed dollnapper phoned this reporter.

Admitting the antic was just a bit of holiday playfulness, the trickster confirmed the only doll they took was never in any danger, the person who became a suspect was just a patsy and they were still waiting for the ransom.

Not wanting to answer too many questions for fear of giving away their identity, the trickster did admit there were others involved before hanging up the phone. "It seems I'm not the only prankster in the building."

Sheriff Heaton is glad the doll has been returned safely to it's home under the tree, but remains apprehensive that the case has no resolution.

"It was my first time to be called to the scene of a dollnapping at the courthouse. I think it's a first for Clay County," he said Friday about the case which hasn't been closed. "We'll be on the lookout for this prankster to strike again sometime in the future."

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