It doesn't happen often, but the ramifications are not gouda.

Early one Thursday morning in June 2016, 10 tons of cheese went missing. Poof. Never to be seen again. A truck driver had left a large trailer chock full of the dairy product unhitched at a small outdoor lot in Oak Creek called Hoffman Storage and driven off to run an errand. When he came back, the $46,000 in wholesale cheese was gone. Someone had broken into the lot with a tractor truck, hooked up the cheese, and made off like a bandit. Hoffman had surveillance video of the lot, but it wasn’t enough to track down whoever had cheese on his hands. This person (or persons) remains at large and the case unsolved, according to Oak Creek Police Chief Steven Anderson.

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Such cargo thefts, as they’re called, are difficult crimes to profit from. Thieves must find someone willing to buy a massive amount of one product, or a small variety, on short notice. So the heists remain relatively rare, but not unheard of, even when it comes to something as perishable as cheese.

In January 2016, a similar theft took place when two Milwaukee men stole a tractor truck from the Northwest Side and drove it to D&G Transport’s refrigerated warehouse in Germantown, which regularly serves as a depot for trucks full of cheese and other products. There the two men hooked the truck up to a cheese-filled trailer worth some $70,000 and drove away. Little did the curd burglars realize their truck had a GPS tracking device on it that recorded their movements, including a trip to the Silver Spring Meat Market on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side, where the proprietor purchased the cheese. Eventually the thieves returned the tractor, slightly banged up, in Milwaukee.

Police were able to find one of the men, Larrelle Henderson of Milwaukee, by way of the phone number he’d used to contact the grocer. In court, Henderson received three years of probation and about $75,000 in restitution. Prosecutors also charged Tracy Steed of Milwaukee as an accomplice, although he remains at large. The cheese itself was destroyed, and Germantown police weren’t able to get a confession from the store’s owner. However, “Common sense would prevail that he knew it was stolen,” says Germantown Police Chief Peter Hoell. Hoell says the theft appears to have been a one-off and not connected to an organized cheese ring.

‘Unsolved Mysteries & Hidden History’ appeared in the May 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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