Three years later — and piece by piece — a San Francisco couple was reunited Thursday with a stolen, 500-pound bronze sculpture that their Sutro Heights neighbors affectionately knew as Thomus T. Hippopotamus.
Although the animal’s four feet and most of its body parts were located at a metal salvage business in the Bayview district over the summer, the hippo’s head wasn’t found until late last week during a police search at a drug-dealing suspect’s house in the inner Richmond. Amid the sawed-off shotgun and suspected heroin and methamphetamine found by police, there it was — the head of Thomus.
Click on the photo to see the slideshow of Thomus T. Hippopotamus' return.
Police acknowledged that it’s rare for any metal stolen for scrap to be returned to its rightful owner, but the hippo was a “dead ringer” for recycling businesses to identify as a lifted item. Police estimated that Thomus had a street value of $500 as scrap, but when he was purchased as a sculpture at a 1990s auction, the hippo cost a hefty $4,000.
“Oh Thomus!” exclaimed owner Dannette Peltier upon seeing him for the first time since 2009. “I knew
he would come back. I just knew it.”
Police officers smiled at Peltier’s strong reaction during the reunion. After all, she had tried everything — even resorting to voodoo on a smaller hippo figurine — to will the metal artiodactyl back to her home. When it was stolen, Peltier heard a commotion outside, but not enough to rouse suspicion.
“It took four people to get him out of a car and into the house,” she said, recalling how she eventually put the hippo outside and encouraged the neighborhood to participate in a naming contest. “Everyone seemed to like him so much, I never thought someone would steal him.”
Police Officer Sue Lavin, who specializes in metal theft with the department, said she was initially teased by her cohorts for working so hard to get the hippo back. But three years later, she got sweet justice.
“We put out fliers right after it happened — I thought nobody cared,” Lavin said with a laugh.
Peltier said she has plans at a welding shop to put Thomus back into one piece. After that, he’ll either live inside her fenced-in backyard, or perhaps she’ll donate him to The City for display at nearby Sutro Park. She has gotten plenty of advice about what to do, she said.
“My one friend said, ‘Just put him back where he was and electrify him,’” she said with a chuckle.