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Thieves collecting Naples lawn art

A string of statue thefts from the lawns of upscale homes has left both the art collectors and investigators baffled, especially considering the brazen manner in which thieves pulled off some of the heists.

Over a seven-month span, thieves have taken 16 sculptures, some worth up to $18,000 and in some cases swiped in the middle of the day.

Naples is a prime target for art thieves, given its stature as a haven for collectors. In December 2002 thieves broke into a multimillion dollar beachfront home and stole two French impressionist-era paintings with a combined value of nearly $7-million.

"The word got out that Naples was ripe for the picking," Naples police Detective Mike O'Reilly said.

Investigators are trying to determine if the 16 statues _ some standing several feet high and heavy structures made of bronze, often secured by thick bolts to stone bases _ have been sold to traveling antique shows, shipped abroad for resale or simply eyed by unscrupulous collectors who masterminded the thefts.

So far, no leads have proven solid.

"We can't discount anything," O'Reilly said.

Anne Abernathy's $16,000, 5{-foot-high bronze sculpture of a ballerina was in her yard one morning, then gone just a few hours later. She was one of the first victims of the stealing spree, losing her sculpture on July 18.

"It was stolen right in broad daylight. I think it was terribly bold," she said.

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