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Concrete statue thieves leave business struggling

ST. PETERSBURG — One of the most treasured statues in the work yard was a small elephant. It was a memorial to a little leukemia victim.

It's gone. So are dozens of others.

For about 14 years, Jerry and Pat Karlik have produced birds, butterflies and Bacchuses. They've made pieces for Disney's All-Star Resort, Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg and an Inuit community near the Arctic Circle.

Now their business is in trouble. Thieves have badly depleted the inventory of statues, lawn ornaments and fountains at Florida Statuary & Molds, 2858 Fifth Ave. S.

"We enjoy what we do," said Pat Karlik, 65, who owns the shop with her husband. "It's just getting almost impossible to do business here. You just can't make any money. And once you do, they steal everything."

The storage yard, once filled with handheld visages of Michelangelo's David and life-sized images of Jesus with outstretched arms, now is filled mostly with dirt and the remaining statues — some cracked and unusable.

Jerry Karlik, 67, paced across his yard Wednesday as the smell of cement dust hit his nose.

"I have to see if there's anything left," he said.

They took the David but left the Jesus.

Maybe the statue thieves feared divine retribution. Or maybe it was just too heavy.

His father spent much of his career working on sculptures that adorned buildings. Karlik retired from his job as a Clearwater Police patrol officer in 1997 and started the business to get back to his roots.

Karlik thought his days of dealing with crime were over, but his shop has been robbed four times over the last two weeks.

They took everything from cup-sized bird statues to planters to a specially made lion plaque. He and his wife estimate thieves got away with 30 to 40 pieces. That's about $2,000 wholesale.

"It's just the two of us," his wife said. "We try so hard to keep the doors open, and the harder you work, the more they take."

St. Petersburg police are investigating.

"We don't see things like this very often," said police spokesman Mike Puetz. "These are basically lawn ornaments, and that's not usually the sort of thing criminals are into."

Karlik pointed to a drooping section of the barbed wire, with pieces of fabric clinging to the sharp spikes.

Possibly, the thieves flung a blanket over the fence, climbed over and handed the statues over, he said. With no guard dogs and no security cameras to see them, the Karliks didn't know anything had happened until they got to work.

This isn't the first time Karliks' business has been robbed. A few years ago, two 175-pound statues of lounging children were taken. They turned up later in front of an abandoned crack house, painted brown with pink lips and fingernails.

The business used to have a dozen employees, but Pat Karlick said the recession hit them hard. Now, it's just the two of them.

She said they both love the business and can't sit still in retirement, but the stress of these thefts is taking its toll.

"You just want to sit down and cry," she said. "You don't know what else to do."

Contact Meredith Rutland at mrutland@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804.

Concrete statue thieves leave business struggling 02/09/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 9, 2013 1:26pm]
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