When Joe Morgan first noticed that the luscious Valencia oranges hanging from his tree were disappearing, he took the polite approach by placing a sign nearby that read "Thou Shall Not Steal."
That didn't stop the orange swiping. In time, someone actually made off with the sign itself.
So this month, the 77-year-old Leisure World resident built an orange-theft alarm, a contraption that makes a loud metal ringing sound whenever certain pieces of fruit are picked from the tree.
Already two people have been tripped up by the alarm. Morgan hopes that as word of his invention spreads through the gated retirement community, the orange swiping will subside.
"People just come by and grab them. They see it, and I guess they want one for breakfast," said the retired Texaco tanker-truck driver. "I guess some people are just born with larceny in their blood."
Morgan's assessment of his neighbors wasn't always so harsh. But after the sign was taken, he said, he became frustrated as he tried to figure out an effective way to stop the looting.
What he came up with was his alarm. Morgan attached nearly invisible strings to some of the most beautiful oranges. The strings are bound together and attached to a steel pipe. When someone picks one of the oranges, the strings cause the pipe to fall onto some chimes, producing a loud ringing that sounds like a ship's bell.
Morgan caught his first orange thief last week. When he heard the ringing, he raced outside just in time to see a woman moving up the walkway in front of his home. "The more I hollered at her, the faster she moved," he said.
When he finally confronted her, the woman told Morgan simply that she " 'just had a yen to get one,' " he said.
"I think people are inconsiderate of the fact you have to nurture these trees," he said. "When you take care of a tree like this and someone comes along and does this, it gets you kind of down. It makes you feel a little for the loss of humanity."
Not that the orange alarm is perfect. Once a bird tripped it.
But for Morgan, it's a good way of keeping his fellow Leisure World residents honest.
"I hope this will be a warning to others," he said.