Stolen church bell in Iowa lost, three arrested

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Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 11:06 PM CDT
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LEWIS, Iowa (WOWT) - The scrap business is booming. The short supply of some metals is providing a boom for recyclers.

But there’s also been an increase in theft, everything from catalytic converters to, in one extreme case, a cast-iron church bell.

“You would think a church bell would be off-limits,” said Cass County, Iowa Sheriff Darby McLaren. “But there’s nothing off-limits anymore.”

The 30 by 40-inch bell weighed an estimated 400 pounds, and the church historian believes it was erected with its original church in 1865.

Sometime Friday night or early Saturday, March 19th, it was stolen from its permanent place on a brick sign in front of the United Congregational Methodist Church in Lewis, Iowa. You can still see the indentation of truck tires in the grassy area by the sign.

Folks in the Cass County, Iowa town of Lewis, quite frankly, were having a hard time turning the other cheek.

”What I was gonna say can’t be said on television, so I’ll quit right there.”

85-year-old Robert Jobe had choice words for the thieves, and he wasn’t alone. But cooler heads prevailed.

Within two days, led by church members Rob Stamp and Drue Kirchhoff, they raised a $5,000 reward. The tips came pouring in and sheriff’s deputies zeroed in on three suspects, arresting two last week. The third turned himself in yesterday.

Trenton Baier, 31, of Lewis, lives across the street from the church but is not a member. He’s charged with second-degree theft, along with Shialea Cozad, 30, of Omaha, and Phillip Duncan, 62, of Omaha. Cozad and Duncan are charged with second-degree theft and controlled substance violations.

But efforts to recover the bell failed. It had apparently been cut into sections and sold to an Omaha scrap yard, those pieces now shipped away. Sheriff McLaren expressed disappointment that they weren’t able to retrieve the bell. He praised the Omaha Police Department, Council Bluffs Police Department, Iowa Department of Public Safety, and the Atlantic Police Department for their assistance.

”That bell’s gone but monetary things can be replaced,” Drue Kirchhoff said. “We can forgive those who stole from us, but they have to ask for God’s forgiveness for themselves.”

There will be a replacement bell at some point, but Pastor Jerry Neal said it doesn’t have to be a new one.

”I believe we’re gonna get an old bell,” Neal said. “Sadly there are rural churches closing, some of them even the age of the churches that merged as us, so somewhere out there there is a bell that needs (a home) and will continue someone’s heritage.”

As for the $5,000 reward, the callers who offered the tips that led to the arrests refused the money, saying it was the right thing to do.

85-year-old Robert Jobe remembers ringing the church bell when he was a young man.

”I used to ring the bell up at the old congregational church,” Jobe said. “And when the bell rolled over, it’d lift me off the floor about two feet. So I heard that bell ring a lot of times.”

But once they merged with another church, the bell moved to the new United Congregational Methodist at 1st and Main streets, where it silently greeted visitors for fifty years.

And then March 19th, it was gone.

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