AT LONG LAST, DENNIS THE MENACE RECOVERED
Well, well, well. Look who decided to play hide and go seek.
After months of mystery, local authorities have recovered Monterey's favorite rabble-rouser, Dennis the Menace. Stolen from its namesake playground at El Estero Park last August, the bronze statue was found Wednesday by the Monterey County Sheriff's Dive Team.
Mischievous as ever — and still dripping by Wednesday afternoon — Dennis was located in Roberts Lake in Seaside, about 2 miles from his rightful Monterey perch.
“Today is a happy day,” Monterey County Sheriff Tina Nieto said at a press conference announcing Dennis' homecoming. “It's a happy day. …And the reason it's such a happy day is that we have found Dennis the Menace.”
Joined by Monterey's Assistant Chief of Police Mike Bruno, as well as members of the dive team that helped rescue Dennis, Nieto said authorities went searching for the statue in Roberts Lake after the Monterey Police Department received an anonymous tip about its location. Police then contacted the Sheriff's Office, hoping it could lend a hand in bringing Dennis safely back to Monterey.
Fortunately, the tip just so happened to coincide with an already scheduled training day for the Sheriff's dive team. With word that Dennis could be nearby, hiding right under authorities' noses, the team shuffled plans and a recovery effort ensued.
Dennis was discovered mucking around in the mud and water, full of both by the time authorities brought him back to shore. Reached over the phone Thursday, Bruno said “it's hard to say how long” the statue was underwater but that it was “likely there for a period of time.”
“I imagine Dennis was stolen and then dumped shortly after,” he said.
Sneaky little statue was here the whole time.
A life-size bronze rendering of Hank Ketcham's cartoon creation, Dennis was stolen last year on Aug. 20. To snag the local frecklefaced legend, thieves used a grinder to slice the statue at the foot separating it from its cement base. Dennis vanished without a word. After the incident, police sifted through video surveillance for signs of the statue. Investigators also asked scrap yards and metal recyclers to let them know if any melted-down chunks of bronze turn up. Police even turned to the public for help, encouraging community members to share credible leads on where Dennis scrambled off to.
But the statue remained missing. That is, until Wednesday, when the 3 1/2-foot-tall character was dredged up from Roberts Lake, where it sat completely submerged in water 4 feet deep.
More than five months after Dennis was initially stolen, authorities have yet to determine those responsible for Dennis' disappearance. (Most recently, that is — this isn't the statue's first time vanishing. Tomfoolery runs in its bronze.)
Dennis was first stolen back in 2006. Seemingly gone for good, a newly recast statue was erected and installed at El Estero in 2007, replacing what had formed the centerpiece of Dennis the Menace Playground for eight years.
The sculpture made its debut in Monterey in 1998. It was one of four original copies made out of a mold created by Academy Awardwinning artist Wah Ming Chang. One statue went to Dennis the Menace Playground, while another went to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. A third statue went to the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in Orlando, Florida. The last went to the Pebble Beach home of Ketcham, who lived on the Monterey Peninsula before his death in 2001.
Chang asked in his will that the molds for the statue be destroyed after his death. He died in 2003, but, thanks to Ketcham's estate, another mold was created from the statue standing in the cartoonist's backyard. That enabled the city to replace the original with a fifth statue when it disappeared in 2006. The sculpture's fifth rendition sat unbothered for another 15 years. Then last August rolled around and Dennis vamoosed yet again.
In 2015, the city thought it had actually found its beloved 1988 Dennis, when a copy of the statue was located at a scrap-metal company in Orlando. The statue was sent back to Monterey for a hopeful homecoming, but it was the wrong Dennis. As it turns out, the Dennis the Menace statue from the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital also vanished sometime in the midto late-1990s, when a park at the hospital was renovated into a Disney theme.
To clarify the returned sculpture's origins, the city worked with one of the people involved in casting the original. Ultimately, it was determined the statue wasn't the one belonging to Monterey. Still, the city kept the Florida statue, with the Orlando hospital's blessing.
Though the Dennis rescued this week is not the city's original statue — at least, authorities are pretty sure — city officials were eager to see the sculpture found with only some tarnish and a missing right foot to show for its escapades.
“When I heard the news, I was so elated,” Monterey Mayor Tyller Williamson said. “What a great story. Not only is it generally positive that we get to bring Dennis back — a shared thing for our entire community — but the way that they stole (the statue) just to throw it in a pond? It blows my mind.”
So what's next for Mr. Menace? First up, some repairs. Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar said the statue needs to be “reunited with his foot.” To do so, the city is looking for a business that can “help us put Dennis the Menace back together again.” Once Dennis is back in full form, Uslar said the city can start figuring out what to do with the statue.
Wary of future attempts at looting Dennis, Uslar said there are a few potential options for returning the statue safely: put the bronze sculpture back at El Estero but with surveillance equipment or installing a replica made of less valuable material that's less enticing to thievery. If the city goes with the latter, Uslar said the real Dennis would be placed elsewhere in a city, probably indoors where it can be secured at night.
“The statue or some replica needs to go back,” Uslar explained. “We just need to figure out how we can do that without going through the heartburn of losing Dennis again.”
Meanwhile, Sheriff Nieto is counting on the city to keep Dennis safe from now on.
“We're giving you back Dennis,” Nieto told Bruno at Wednesday's press conference. “Don't let him get stolen again.”
Bruno said Monterey police are still investigating the incident. He encouraged anyone with information about what happened or those behind the theft to reach out to police.
If culprits are caught, they could be subject to a grand theft felony charge.
Look out, Mr. Wilson.