Caught on NC museum video: Young couple swipe $10,000 baby dinosaur replica

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 16, 2014 

Correction: A caption and credit with this storyincorrectly said the photo was from cameras at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. The photo was from the N.C. Museum of History.

RALEIGH - Missing: One duck-billed dinosaur. Made of resin. Snatched from the nest.

Wanted: Two young troublemakers, possibly lovers, in Raleigh’s felony museum heist.

That’s the state of things after a girl in short shorts and a boy in striped shorts ran amok, according to security video, in the city’s free public museums.

First, according to the State Capitol Police, the couple on Monday stripped the N.C. Museum of History of model corn, cabbage and lettuce, along with an actual antique medicine bottle and some nonhistorical doilies.

The goods were worth less than $1,000, according to police. But that was only the prelude of the duo’s suspected two-stop crime spree.

Video from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences shows the score as it evolves. First, the two squeezed through the crowd in the third-floor dinosaur exhibit’s corridor, spying their quarry as they stopped at an explanatory plaque.

The baby Edmontosaurus models must have caught their attention, the replica vegetarians sitting among the broken shells in their model nest, with only the replica skeleton of an older relative watching over them.

So the couple apparently came back when the crowd had cleared. In the video clip, the man stepped over a low barrier and tramped through the replica coastal forest, his companion pacing the corridor with her hand to her mouth.

He escaped the exhibit in just under a minute, clutching the dinosaur, then stuffed it into her big, colorful bag.

He appeared to give her a kiss as they walked away, and they adjusted their new companion in the purse as they passed beneath the security camera.

The dinosaur model is 12 to 14 inches long and valued at $10,000. The museum commissioned the models as its current building opened about 14 years ago, according to museum spokesman Jon Pishney.

“It’s a custom-made, scientifically accurate, museum-quality model,” Pishney said. “We’re basing this on what it cost us to have built initially.”

The theft of the replica dinosaur is a felony offense, Capitol Police said Wednesday.

The male suspect, believed to be in his 20s, was wearing a dark gray T-shirt, white shorts with gray or green horizontal stripes and black-and-white sneakers.

The woman, believed to be in her 20s, has brown hair, is about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, and was wearing a pink shirt, blue shorts and ankle-high boots.

The Edmontosaurus is believed to have been an herbivore with a very advanced set of teeth. The real-life version may have stood roughly 40 feet long and 13 feet tall, and there’s a “decent chance” that it lived in North Carolina roughly 70 million years ago, according to Terry Gates, a postdoctoral research associate with the museum.

It’s unclear where the suspected thieves might live. Police have turned up no sign of their new ward either.

With the theft of the replica baby, the museum is left with two models – including a sauropod, which is too large to steal, according to Pishney – and two real skeletons, along with four skeleton casts.

Pishney, the science museum spokesman, hadn’t heard of a theft in his 11 years working there. But Gates has heard horror stories from other museums, about visitors taking vertebrae and fingers from easy-to-reach displays.

“It makes me sad, because as scientists and as exhibitors we try to get the public as close as we can to our exhibits. It allows for a more immersive experience,” Gates said.

“When someone comes around and takes away a portion of it, it makes us more reluctant to do that in future exhibits.”

Anyone with information about the suspects is asked to call State Capitol Police at 919-733-3333.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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