The criminalsâ€™ ruse was so well orchestrated that no one realized 400 koi had been carefully packed in large coolers and stolen until after the men were gone and security mentioned the crew to the property-management company. An even greater shock: The fish might be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
â€œWe thought, â€˜Wait a minute. No one was hired to look at the fish,â€™â€‰â€ said an employee at the office park who was not authorized to speak to the media. â€œWe were stunned. We were shocked. Who steals these kind of fish?â€
Fairfax County police are still trying to solve the mystery, but the strange case has opened a window on the little-known and arcane world of koi collectors, who will pay as much as $25,000 for a championship fish and passionately pit their prized specimens against each other at competitions.
I demand to know what the police and politicians are doing to keep our koi safe!
â€œWeâ€™ve never heard of a theft like this before,â€ said Lucy Caldwell, a Fairfax police spokeswoman.
But there have been others across the nation. In May, eight koi worth about $1,600 were stolen from a pond at the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison. In January, nine koi were stolen from a Florida woman, and in 2010, 24 koi were swiped from a familyâ€™s Scarsdale, N.Y., pond.
But the scale of the heist in Fairfax surprised koi aficionados â€” all said they had never heard of a larger one. Most said they did not believe that there was a black market for the fish but that a thief could easily resell them to a dealer.