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Grinch steals Christmas in the Village money

Mark Henry, president of the Dakota County Agricultural Society, shows where a thief broke into buildings at Dakota City Heritage Village late Sunday or early Monday. (RiverTown Multimedia photo by Deanna Weniger)

The thief had to break through four locked doors, but he eventually found what he was looking for — $8,000 collected from a weekend event at the Dakota City Heritage Village.

"That's what's devastating," said Mark Henry, president of the Dakota County Agricultural Society.

"The village doesn't make a lot of money. It's mostly volunteers."

The village is a 1900-era town of 22 buildings on five acres on the Dakota County Fairgrounds.

Every year, volunteers bring the village to life for Christmas during the first two weekends in December.

A horse-drawn trolley takes visitors through village streets to join in caroling, see demonstrations of woodworking, blacksmithing, printmaking and holiday cooking. The local children's theater performs "A Christmas Carol" in the old fire hall and, of course, St. Nicholas makes an appearance.

After the merry-making Sunday night, workers secured the till in the Ahlberg Hall office and went home. Little did they know, a Grinch had been watching.

The thief entered from a door on the west side of the hall. Henry said it looked as if he had used a sledgehammer, because the door knob was broken completely off.

He or she made their way through the museum to the front lobby. A big black shoe print on the white door of the fair office makes it look like the thief kicked that door in.

Henry said files were open and scattered around the office. His own office, which also had been locked, had its door knob smashed off.

At first, Henry thought they'd been rather lucky. Things were messed up, but nothing was taken. As a Dakota County Sheriff's officer took Henry's statement on Monday morning, he thought he'd better take a closer look at the village office across the lobby which had appeared untouched.

The thief had broken in, but the damage was not as obvious at first. The door had been pried open, leaving scrape marks near the latch.

It was in that office that the thief had found the money.

No official report was available from the Sheriff's department as of Tuesday morning, but the department did release this statement: "Due to the active investigation, there is very limited data we can release right now. This was a burglary reported to us on Dec. 5, 2016 at 7:35 am. The burglary is believed to have happened sometime between 9 p.m. the night before and when the call was made to us. Ahlberg Hall was the location of the burglary. Our Investigations Division is following up."

The Agriculture Society, which had its regular meeting Monday night, talked about getting a security system for the hall.

"It's like closing the door after the horses are out in the pasture," member Roger Janak said of the society's plan to put up cameras. "They're already out of the barn!"

Until the stolen money is found, the village hopes to recoup some of its funds with this weekend's Christmas in the Village event, 1-8 p.m., Dec. 10 and 11.