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'Pine crime' solved: 3 students cited for theft of rare, 25-foot tree from UW Arboretum, police say
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'Pine crime' solved: 3 students cited for theft of rare, 25-foot tree from UW Arboretum, police say

One of the more bizarre crimes in Madison history has been solved, with citations being issued to three 19-year-old UW-Madison students in the theft of a 25-foot pine tree from the UW Arboretum in November.

UW-Madison officials asked for the public to help in finding whoever went into the Arboretum between Nov. 5 and Nov. 9, cut down and carted away the rare Algonquin Pillar Swiss Mountain pine tree, and cut off a 12-foot section of a Compact White Fir tree, but left it on the ground. The trees were worth at least $13,000 combined.

On Friday, UW-Madison police spokesperson Marc Lovicott announced that the case had been solved “thanks to a tip from the community” to the department on Monday.

Lovicott said the information led officers to an unrecognized student organization formerly known as Chi Phi, which was terminated as an official student organization in 2015 because of hazing.

In various interviews, three members of the former Chi Phi admitted to purchasing a chainsaw, renting a U-Haul, and stealing the tree as part of the organization’s “pledge.” They said when they learned how rare the tree was, and that police were investigating, they destroyed the tree and disposed of it outside of Madison, Lovicott said.

Cameron Krahn, Cody Knepprath and Joshua Michels each were cited for removing the tree, which carries a fine of $200.50.

At the time of the crime, the curator of the Arboretum’s Longenecker Horticultural Gardens, David Stevens, speculated that the Algonquin pine was “most likely taken for a large Christmas tree display. Somebody’s trying to make a buck.”

Stevens said the Arboretum has occasionally seen smaller trees taken from the conifer section in years past.

“We’re just devastated,” he said at the time of the crime. “It feels like somebody broke into your house and stole something precious to you.”

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