Borough police have launched a criminal investigation into how a marker honoring the late actor Michael Landon ended up at the office of a local weekly newspaper.
Police Lt. Glenn Prince confirmed the investigation Tuesday afternoon.
"We're trying to figure out what happened," Prince said. "We’re definitely looking into it, now that we’ve been made aware of the situation."
The bronze plaque honoring the borough's most famous former resident had sat on a 2-foot high concrete base in Knight Park since 1997. The marker was removed this past November during a major cleanup project at the park, after borough officials determined it presented a potential safety hazard because the base sat alone at a low height in a grassy area.
Mayor James Maley said Tuesday that the marker had been taken to the borough's public-works facility on Champion Avenue (and not the Eldridge Avenue facility, as he had previously thought.)
After that, Maley said, "someone removed the marker from the concrete base and removed it from the facility. It's not like it was put out on the curb and trashed. It was not thrown out."
The mayor said he's not sure exactly where at the facility the marker was stored.
"It certainly could have been laying out," he said. "We've had it since mid-November. It would have been thrown out if it was being thrown out.
"It’s definitely a theft," Maley said of the plaque's disappearance from the public-works garage. "Somebody went into the borough facility, went inside the gates" and took the plaque.
The local weekly newspaper The Retrospect reported last week that a borough resident–whom the paper did not identify–found the bronze plaque and brought it to the newspaper's office on Haddon Avenue.
Brett Ainsworth, the newspaper's publisher, did not return a call seeking comment late Tuesday afternoon.
The plaque's recent, unceremonious journey bothers former borough resident Abbe Effron, who raised $1,400 to pay for the marker and the concrete base in 1997. (Landon's widow, Cindy, also donated a children's play set, dubbed "Little Treehouse on the Prairie," at a cost of $6,700.)
"Some better care could have been taken with the plaque to ensure its safety and security," Effron said in an interview Tuesday, adding that she'd met with Maley earlier in the day to express her concerns.
"I told the mayor, 'You might not be proud that Michael's from here, or not be a fan yourself. But he has millions fans all over the world,' " said Effron, 51, who now lives in Cherry Hill.
She said there's been an outpouring from Landon's fans across the globe upset over the handling of the memorial to their favorite actor.
As a teenager, Effron was a big fan of the Little House on the Prairie television series, which starred Michael Landon as the family patriarch. As an adult, Effron took it upon herself to make sure all he accomplished after graduating from Collingswood High School and leaving for Hollywood wasn't forgotten locally.
Before his death in 1991 from cancer, Michael Landon (born Eugene Maurice Orowitz), was outspoken about the anti-Semitism he faced grown up in a small South Jersey town in the 1940s and 1950s. Some residents never got over their resentment of him for this, Effron said.
Over the years, Effron has stayed in touch with Landon's widow. She said she's not sure if Cindy Landon knows the memorial to her husband was removed from its original location. Collingswood Patch was unable to reach Cindy Landon on Monday and Tuesday.
Effron agrees with Maley that the memorial presented a hazard because of its low height.
"The day after they put the plaque on the concrete base, I thought it was dangerous," she said. "But at that point, they'd already poured the concrete."
But, she added, "for 14 years, no kid's ever gotten hurt that I know of" by tumbling over the memorial.
For now, the plaque will remain at The Retrospect's office, among a collection of borough artifacts, Maley said.
But eventually–most likely in the spring–the memorial will be returned to the park, but in a different location, according to the mayor.
"It will be put up in the park in some way where it will be won’t be a hazard to anybody," Maley said. "Sometimes plaques come down and get put in different places. That’s all that’s happening here."