Stolen trophy wolf worth thousands returned to popular Kalamazoo restaurant

Posted at 8:24 PM, Oct 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-25 20:46:31-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Joe Wolf got a phone call Sunday evening that made him pretty upset. An employee called him and said that someone hit his car in the parking lot.

“My kitchen staff called me and said 'can you take a look at the surveillance cameras,'” said Wolf during an interview at Louie’s Trophy House. “I was at home, pulled up my mobile app of course and started looking at the video. I saw the car hit his car.”

Wolf saw something else in the surveillance video that was upsetting. He saw a man walking out of the restaurant with a stuffed wolf in his hand, one that’s included on a display worth $16,000.

“I could see him pull it off,” said Wolf who’s the operations manager at the restaurant. “I just saw him carrying it away. But the way that the mount is structured, you had to really pull it with some force to be able to break it apart.”

Wolf said Sunday evening, a group of guys walked into their restaurant, ate some pizza, had a few beers, then left. Except one of them went through the back patio doors with the stuffed wolf in his hand. He then threw it over the fence, Wolf said, and in minutes drove his car around back to pick it up.

“I talked to my staff that worked that night and they said they were very polite to them,” said Wolf. “They were here for less than an hour.”

Immediately, Wolf posted the surveillance pictures on social media and he said news spread like “wildfire.” Within 45 minutes, they had a name. Wolf emailed the man immediately asking for the stuffed animal back. He also asked him how he’s going to pay for the damages done to his employee’s car.

“Ironically his wife, or soon to be ex-wife, called the restaurant and gave me his contact number, his address,” said Wolf, who'd missed a few of the guy's phone calls. “That’s when I gave it to the police department.”

The investigation is ongoing, said Wolf. They filed a report on a hit-and-run and stolen property. However, around 3:30 p.m. Monday, the stuffed wolf was left on their doorstep.

“While I was gone in the afternoon he called the bar and said ‘I’m the gentlemen who took your wolf. I’m very sorry. I'm embarrassed. I really don’t want to walk inside so I left it at your front door,’” said Wolf recalling the message. “He left it at the door for us. So we went out and grabbed it.”

Wolf said everyone at the restaurant was grateful to have it back, especially the owner Mike Van Demaele. He hunted the animal during a trip to the Arctic Circle that cost him $40,000. Even to have the wolf stuffed and brought to the bar required lots of paperwork and special licensing.

“It’s very personal to him,” said Wolf.  "These are not very easy animals to be able to hunt. With that being said, he’s own this place for 10 years and not one time has anyone touched any of the animals.”

And he hope that was the last. Wolf said the stuffed animal was brought back to them dirty and damaged. A taxidermist is coming in later this week to clean it up and repair the damages. But he said that’ll take weeks to do. Because of the value of the wolf, the suspect could pay up to $250,000 in fines.

“Why would you even want to do that?” said Wolf reflecting on the incident. “We’re a small business. We fight tooth and nail to get business in here and to survive and be with the big boys. And to take something that doesn’t belong to you and was something that was that nice, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”