Copper Heist Strips Edgerton Park

Thomas Breen photoOver $150,000 of lead-covered copper flashing was stolen from the north wall of Edgerton Park, leaving the century-old stone structure exposed to the destructive influence of freezing and thawing water for the remainder of the winter.

The New Haven parks department plans to replace the protective covering come spring. Meanwhile, the Hamden police are still on the look out for the perpetrator(s) of the copper heist.

The 25-acre public park straddles the East Rock / Hamden divide. Its northern wall faces the Lake Whitney Water Treatment Plant.

According to Hamden Police Public Information Officer Ronald Smith, town police responded to a call on Dec. 22, 2018 that a man wearing a tank top was removing metal sheathing from the top of the stone wall that runs along the northern end of Edgerton Park.

“He subsequently fled in a small ‘compact style’ vehicle,” Smith said about the burglar. “We have been unable to identify him.”

But this wasn’t a matter of snagging a small batch of precious metal, an Edgerton Park Conservancy board member told the Independent. Rather, the burglar or burglars managed to pry off lead-covered copper covering, or “flashing,” that stretched along the top of the entire northern wall, which is roughly a third of a mile long.

She said the neighboring South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority installed the metal covering in 2000 as a “good neighbor” initiative to protect the century-old wall from the deteriorating effects of water seeping into the mortar and eroding the concrete through freezing and thawing in cold weather. She said the water company spent $160,000 on the installation of the lead-copper covering nearly two decades ago. And now, all of that covering is gone.

“From my point of view,” said the board member, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by the still-on-the-loose burglar(s), “this is a pretty major heist.”

New Haven Parks Director Becky Bombero told the Independent that the city parks department will replace the stolen metal flashing by this spring.

“Fortunately,” she stated by email, “we were in the process of awarding work on a previously bid section of the wall for repairs and capping.” So now the department is working with city engineers to change the scope of work order to include some kind of alloy flashing, and maybe even stone capping, for the recently denuded northern wall.

She said the replacement of the flashing should cost between $50,000 and $80,000, depending on if the city decides to add stone capping.

On a recent tour of the scene of the crime, the Edgerton Park Conservancy board member walked the Independent through how she came across the burglary late last year while out on her daily 9 a.m. dog walk.

She first noticed something was wrong on Dec. 19, when she saw found a window and a door open at the storage barn that stands between the northern wall and the park’s old carriage house. That barn used to house horses for a police mounted unit, Bombero said, before the unit was disbanded in 2008.

On that late December morning, the board member recalled, she found a pile of power equipment, including weed whackers and hedge trimmers, lying outside of the barn. She called the New Haven police, who she said came to the scene, inspected the barn, and determined that what she had found looked like a burglary interrupted.

On Dec. 22, walking along that same stretch of the park, the board member said she saw the barn door open yet again.

“That should be closed and locked,” she remembered thinking. This time, however, she didn’t see any power equipment lying in a pile of leaves. This time she saw a stream of water seeping out through the bottom of the door.

When she looked inside, she saw a washing machine on its side. The copper piping connecting the machine and a water heat, she said, was gone.

Then she looked behind the barn, and, a few pillars away, she saw a man wearing a red sports pinny standing on top of the wall, prying copper flashing off of the top with a crow bar.

She asked him what he was doing. “He goes, ‘I’m taking the metal off the wall,’” she said. She asked him why. He said his boss told him to, because the flashing needed to be repaired.

She asked who his boss was. He didn’t respond. The water company? She suggested. Yes, he replied.

She thanked him, went home, and called the police. Three Hamden cop cars arrived with sirens blaring, she remembered. The burglar with the crow bar managed to slip away before the cops got to the scene.

“This is one of the worst things that has happened to the park” since she joined the conservancy’s board several years ago, she said. “It’s gone. All gone.”

Without any kind of metal protectors, she said, water and snow will seep into the concrete and slowly erode the mortar. The other three walls are still protected by an aluminum alloy flashing installed by the city parks department, she said. She praised Bombero for prioritizing replacing the missing sheathing on the northern wall by thus spring.

“We do want to thank the conservancy for their stewardship and advocacy for the park,” Bombero told the Independent, “and the Hamden Police for their efforts in this case.”

This board member wasn’t the only Edgehill neighbor to notice something fishy in the Edgerton Park area in mid-December.

In an email conversation between members of the St. Ronan / Edgehill Neighborhood Assocaition, one neighbor recalled seeing a man on top of the north wall on the afternoon of Dec. 15.

“I walked to the stone alcove in the park where you can sit and stayed there for a few minutes,” she wrote on Jan. 28, 2019. “I saw a man on the top of the wall doing something. I decided he must be a volunteer from the neighborhood working on the wall. It didn’t occur to me anything was wrong, because it was early afternoon, and, mostly, I didn’t realize there was anything valuable to take. I remember it because it did seem odd. I was too far away to be able to recognize him.”

“It is hard to sell that much copper,” another neighbor noted in the email thread on Jan. 28. “It must be sold somewhere and the shapes should make it an easy find. The police undoubtedly can check all the scrap yards for this material given its shape. And then the scrap yards will have a record of being paid for an unusual amount of scrap copper sold to a consuming mill or melting and casting facility.”

Still another visited the northern wall after the burglary, and noted that that wall, unlike the southern, western, and eastern edges of the park, faces trees and the water company, rather than the street.

“Assuming we were in the right place,” she wrote, “we figured someone could have parked at that spot in the darkness and, with accomplices, slipped unnoticed down the line toward Whitney to remove the flashing, perhaps over several nights.  Most of their work would easily have gone unnoticed.

“So many neighbors and friends of Edgerton have worked very hard over the years to protect the park and its walls and raise funds to repair and replace sections of the wall.  It’s a big loss.”

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posted by: wendy1 on February 7, 2019  3:14pm

I hope we catch the muts who did this… vandalized our park.  I am very angry but this is a symptom of a crumbling society…we need a parks dept. person around the clock to guard this beautiful space and we need a healthy economy, period, to avoid this kind of thievery.  I doubt we are going to get either .  This is very upsetting.

In Britain there are cctv cameras everywhere to catch crooks and villains.  We now need them.

posted by: 1644 on February 7, 2019  3:42pm

Wendy. It’s a non-violent crime.  If we oppose incarceration for non-violent, “minor” crimes, we need to stop being bothered when we are victims of burglaries and larcenies.

posted by: wendy1 on February 7, 2019  4:03pm

The thieves need to be sanctioned in some way.  I agree jail or prison for them is a waste of our tax money.  I was the first private contributor to the “community bail fund”.  Just ask Scott Greenberg.  I meet ex-prisoners EVERY day because I am out there getting signatures from the man on the street and come to find out half of these men just got “OUT”.  No jobs and no housing….  Maybe if we offered solutions for at least housing we could cut back crimes like this.  Having been a kid in the 50’s and 60’s I am afraid of arrest and remain law-biding.  Unfortunately this does not always apply to later generations.  I am a fan of thinking outside the box but I am not a fan of hurting my fellow citizens.  This crime hurts us.

posted by: CrowsNest on February 7, 2019  5:16pm

I agree with Wendy. We need more restrictions. City wide curfews for kids and adults, only allowing travel with express permission from the government. Tougher penalties on all crimes. Less violent crime will be committed when there is swift and calculated punishment for any violation of law. I disagree about having a PW employee 24/7, more appropriate would be an armed police officer stationed at all city buildings and landmarks with an increased roving patrols and street checkpoints. Let’s not allow our civil society spiral into chaos!

posted by: wendy1 on February 7, 2019  6:14pm

CrowsNest, it does not sound like you agree with me or anyone else for that matter.

posted by: robn on February 7, 2019  7:09pm

We should have TVs that send pictures in both directions and that provide guidance from the government so this never happens again.

posted by: new havener on February 7, 2019  8:52pm

New Haven! Look what we’ve got! Like a real, living Fellini movie…up is down, black is white…

Obviously the aggrieved party has been beaten down by the system and only took the copper and flashing materials out of need. Perhaps the aggrieved was victimized by descendants of Fred Brewster, and was only taking what was perceived to be his.

Even Wendy condemns the nefarious act

posted by: DrJay on February 7, 2019  9:03pm

A shame the person who witnessed this theft didn’t think to take pictures with her cell phone before asking the man what he was doing.We all carry an important tool for crime fighting in our pocket but don’t think to use it.

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 8, 2019  1:55am

I don’t know that I have ever seen copper flashing on a stone wall.

posted by: narcan on February 8, 2019  4:01am

Sad state of affairs when we, via our court system, encourage this type of theft.

posted by: tmctague on February 8, 2019  9:05am

I’ll buy some more houseplants to cover the costs.

posted by: Conorbarnes on February 8, 2019  11:46am

Maybe check with Joe Ganim and the City of Bridgeport? They are having some scrap metal problems of their own.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 9, 2019  8:13am

CrowsNest, perhaps something like this?
https://youtu.be/CzhIPvEanMg

posted by: cellardoor on February 11, 2019  5:10pm

Nice reporting!