The case of the kidnapped St. Cloud crocodile has been cracked.
The crocodile is actually a 10-foot-long, 160-pound stainless steel sculpture called “Crocodile” on display in downtown St. Cloud that went missing sometime last week.
When its artist, Dale Lewis, discovered it was gone, he offered a $2,000 reward “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for this felony.”
Lewis said that someone who saw a story about the art heist on the Star Tribune website called him Thursday night with an address where the crocodile could be found about five or six blocks away from where it had been on display.
Lewis said he called the police Friday morning and they told him they found a man who admitted to taking the sculpture, possibly with the help of a friend.
Lewis said the sculpture was actually located at a nearby church.
“For some reason they took the sculpture to a church after they saw the story. I don’t know what they were thinking,” Lewis said.
Lewis is thrilled that his art work has been recovered. He said he understands the suspect is a college student and seems remorseful. Lewis said he doesn’t know if he’ll press charges.
“I’d like to make sure the sculpture is in good shape,” he said.
The toothy sculpture had been on loan and on display since Aug. 22, 2017, in downtown St. Cloud as part of the Sculpture Walk St. Cloud program.
But when Lewis went to pick up the sculpture last Saturday after the conclusion of the program, the crocodile was gone.
Lewis said the metal beast, which was installed at 1st Street and 8th Avenue S., was last seen July 21.
It was anchored to the pavement, he said. So it didn’t just walk away.
“It’s kind of hard to believe,” Lewis said. “Where do you hide a 10-foot crocodile?”
He said the piece, made out of scrap electrical enclosure boxes with butter-knife teeth, has his name written on the tail. It took him about six weeks to make and is worth $6,500, he said.
Something like this has happened to Lewis before.
Mecca Page, a fine art representative who has Lewis as a client, said a 4-foot-tall T. rex sculpture made by Lewis and displayed in Hastings in 2012 went missing for a couple of weeks. It was later found with a broken leg, thrown in a ditch next to Hwy. 61.
Lewis, 62, of Vermillion, started making metal sculptures in 2010 after a career as a machinist and electrical technician. He’s had success, with sculptures on display now in Levee Park in Hastings and at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
But his crocodile is one of his best-traveled pieces. It has been displayed in Bemidji, Sioux Falls and Decatur, Ind.
“It’s always shown well, but no one’s stepped up to buy it,” he said.
The crocodile has also been mounted to a roof rack on Lewis’ car as a sort of giant roof ornament.
“It spent a year and a half on top of my Honda Civic,” Lewis said. “I looked at it as an advertisement, kind of like Domino’s.”