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Two charged in theft of Independence pioneer statue

Updated: 2013-06-21T03:50:47Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

The “Woman of the West” was carted away in a Ford Escort Wagon, then cut and crumbled and tossed in a trash can.

But pieces of the statue that was valued at $75,000 were turned away at the scrapyard.

That was the story told in court documents Thursday when two people were charged in the theft of the statue that stood for more than two decades outside the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence.

Jeremy W. Ratliff, 36, and Kelli L. Summers, 33, both of Independence, each were charged with one count of felony theft. Bond was set at $50,000 each.

Independence police also said Thursday they want to question 29-year-old Randy V. Perez Jr., reportedly also known as “Bubba.”

The 6-foot-tall statue depicted a pioneer woman carrying a child in one arm and holding a pail in the other. The metal was treated to make her dress a striking blue. She was a fixture outside the museum that celebrated Independence’s role as a jumping-off point for the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails of the 19th century.

The statue was reported missing Monday. Police found broken pieces from an automobile at the scene. They alerted area scrap dealers to be on the lookout for the statue.

The alert paid off when 12th Street Recycling in Kansas City’s old Northeast area notified police that two men had showed up there Saturday with a trash can filled with bronze pieces, some of them with a blue color. Staff also noticed a bronze hand and refused to buy the metal.

Surveillance video made available by the scrapyard led police to a maroon Ford Escort, which they located in Independence along with Summers and Ratliff. Broken auto pieces found at the theft scene matched the car, police said.

Court documents say Summers told police she drove the Escort Wagon into the museum courtyard on Saturday and Ratliff and another man loaded the statue into the back. She said they took the statue to the second man’s house in Independence. When she and Ratliff came back later, she told police, the statue was in a trash can in pieces.

Summers told police she drove the men to the scrapyard. After they were turned away there, she said, they returned to the second man’s house, where she last saw him dragging the trash can with the statue pieces down his driveway.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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