RIVERVIEW, Florida-- Hillsborough County deputies spent the better part ofChristmas morning trying to return hundreds of pieces of mail they'd found laying on the street to their rightful addresses.
Mail they could not return will eventually be turned over to the post office and redelivered.
Investigators are not exactly sure how much mail was actually stolen. It might have beenvandals simply throwing the mail out the window. It may have been thieves looking for gift cards or scammers looking to steal identities.
It may be several days,deputies say, before people realize something they were expecting in their mailboxes never made it.
In three subdivisions near Symmes Road east of Highway 301, there were still flyers, cards, and envelopes scattered all over streets and sidewalks.
Between midnight and 6:00 a.m., say deputies, a Grinch or Grinches apparently swiped the mail from more than a hundred households in the Boyette Farms, Rivercrest, and Summerfield neighborhoods.
"This may be someone who's going through the subdivisions as a prank and removing people's mail, or it may be someone who's after something. We don't know at this point," said Deputy Marc Wilder.
A Christmas card stuffed into an envelope was addressed to Paul Shook. He wasn't at all happy about having his mail swiped. "I'm glad to have it back, absolutely," he said.
Deputies say whoever left behind the paper trail may have also left behind some evidence. Fingerprints, DNA, perhaps even surveillance images captured by a local business or home security camera.
"Most mailboxes are in a close proximity to most homes, so we're hoping someone's camera may have caught something," said Deputy Wilder.
There were a few neighbors, like Stephanie Watson, who tried to have a more compassionate view of whoever did this given the holiday.
"People are desperate. I feel bad for them. To go to that length just to get something. It's --it's sad," said Watson.
But deputies say there's never a reasonable excuse for stealing someone's mail, their presents, their property, maybe even their identity. And it's an especially naughty thing to do on Christmas morning.
"Well, they're definitely getting coal in their stockings this year," said Wilder.
Deputies say forensic information off the letters may be challenging, because a lot of the mail they picked up had been left out in the elements where it got wet and run over by cars.
While this may seem like an obvious case of theft, deputies say it could be days before they know if anything was actually taken.
They'll likely have to allow enough time to pass before knowing whether something that was expected in someone's mailbox never made it.