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‘Pine Crime:’ University of Wisconsin-Madison Apprehends Tree Thieves


The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) has discovered the culprits behind the theft of a rare Algonquin Pillar Swiss Mountain pine tree and damage to a 40-year-old Compact White Fir in November.

The pine tree was planted at the UW Arboretum in 1988. Alongside the theft, the top section of the Compact White Fir was also cut off. Staff at the UW Arboretum estimated the cost of the damaged and stolen trees to be at least $13,000.

Catching the Conifer Crooks

The tree thieves turned out to be 19-year-olds Cameron Krahn, Cody Kenpprath, and Joshua Michels, who wreaked havoc on the tree farm as part of their “pledge” to the Chi Phi fraternity.

Chi Phi is an unrecognized fraternity that had its status terminated in 2015.

In an update to the case, the UW-Madison Police Department explained that after acting on an anonymous tip, the three students “admitted to purchasing a saw, renting a U-Haul, and stealing the tree as part of the organization’s pledge.”

After they learned of the UWPD investigations and the rarity of the tree, they destroyed it and disposed of it outside the city. 

Each student will pay a $200.50 fine for removing the tree.

Details of the Investigation

Police noted that the pine tree’s twin, which stood right next to the stolen tree, was left unharmed, and that the cut section of the Compact White Fir was left in the Arboretum. 

“Because of the effort it took to remove the 25-foot tree from the Arboretum, and the fact that a cut-down tree of that size is rare and unusual, we believe our community can assist us in identifying the person(s) responsible for the theft,” the police said.

“If anyone witnessed a large tree being transported from this area – or notices a large tree that’s now part of someone’s holiday display – you’re urged to call the UW-Madison Police Department,” they concluded in a statement which led to the apprehension of the students.

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