Priest Returns Stolen Bottles to Missouri Wine Shop... With a Note From the Thief

The remorseful perpetrator may be responsible for a string of high-end wine heists in the area.

Wine bottles in a cardboard box

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On a Tuesday in October, a man walked into The Wine Merchant store in Clayton, Missouri and quickly turned his attention toward a couple of $200 bottles of wine. He then crouched down in front of the wine racks — seemingly to get a better look — pulled a reusable bag out of his jacket pocket, stuffed six bottles inside and casually walked out of the store.

That last move was a bit of a surprise to the Wine Merchant staff, but it apparently wasn’t unusual for this particular man. According to St. Louis, Missouri news station KMOV, a person matching the same description also helped himself to $3,000 worth of wine at another Clayton store. "He took some wines that were marked at a very high price, $600 or so," Aaron Zwicker, the co-owner of The Wine and Cheese Place, said.

Although the Wine and Cheese Place hasn't seen those 12 bottles — or the man who allegedly took them — again, the Wine Merchant had an unexpected visitor earlier this week after the store's security camera footage of the incident was broadcast by KMOV. "It was a slow Monday and I saw a priest come in with a big box and set it on the front counter and I came over to let him know I'd be with him in just a second," the store’s owner Jason Main, later told the news outlet. "He stopped me right there and said, 'Look, I need to make a return.'"

The priest left the box, along with a manila folder containing a handwritten letter, and said that he would not answer any questions about… well, any of it. When Main opened the box, he saw that it contained all of the bottles that had been taken from the store a couple of weeks ago. The letter was a two-page apology explaining that the alleged thief had faced a series of serious personal setbacks and was selling the stolen wine to make a bit of money.

"I am very sorry for my actions and there is no excuse for my behavior," he wrote, adding that he "felt terrible" about what he had done. He indicated that he had stolen from other wine stores and, even though the bottles had been sold, he would find a way to pay them back.

"Me and the other employee just started yelling like, 'What?!'" Main added. "This can’t be happening... this is the wine!"

Clayton Police Captain Mark Seagle told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Main had not signed any prosecution forms regarding the alleged theft, so the man will not be investigated any further. The outlet also adds that the same person could also have been the one who stole a shopping cart full of wine from Straub’s supermarket, but left it in the parking lot before making his escape.

With any luck, a priest might be dropping a box and an envelope off at the Wine and Cheese Place, too. Until then, the store is no longer offering reusable shopping bags to its customers, and is being a bit more careful about which wines it puts out on its shelves.

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