Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton admitted being puzzled about the theft last weekend of 50 brass flower vases valued at $200 apiece from Evergreen Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Mahtomedi.

"I'm not exactly sure what sick mind would want to do that," Hutton said Tuesday, calling the incident a significant theft. "C'mon, really?"

The head of maintenance at the cemetery, located in the 3400 block of Century Avenue, told investigators that the vases had been stolen sometime Saturday or Sunday. The vases, which have different styles, are 10 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter.

Investigators alerted recycling centers in an effort to catch people trying to sell the vases for their scrap value, said Cmdr. Brian Mueller of the Sheriff's Office. No suspects had been identified. Other law enforcement agencies also were contacted.

Such scrap metal thefts have become a crime epidemic in recent years as metal values have risen and the economy has struggled. Cemeteries, in particular, have become targets, along with foreclosed homes and construction sites.

Last year, after bronze stars began disappearing from the graves of Minnesota soldiers, some veterans officials urged families to place the memorial markers at home instead of the cemetery. More than 200 stars disappeared from Isanti County cemeteries alone during one wave of thefts over a few weeks.

State lawmakers this year passed the Scrap Metal and Auto Theft Prevention Act, which tightens industry regulations in several ways, including requiring titles for older vehicles sold to salvage yards.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has introduced the Metal Theft Prevention Act, which also targets thefts of copper, aluminum, stainless steel and other scrap metal. The bill would make it a federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure.

Anyone with information related to the theft in Mahtomedi or the whereabouts of the vases is urged to contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office tip line at 651-430-7850 or via e-mail at sheriff@co.washington.mn.us/. You may remain anonymous.