A real-life Grinch stole a 30-foot inflatable Santa Claus from a shopping center using it to promote a sale, a spokesman said.
"It's hard to believe anyone would steal a Santa Claus," said Ralph Rodheim, marketing director for the Foothill Ranch Marketplace. "Maybe it's a high-school prank."
Merchants put up the blow-up St. Nick, valued at $12,500, about a week ago and sent out thousands of mailers inviting local residents this weekend to see the giant Santa and a companion Frosty the Snowman balloon, Rodheim said.
"The thought was to do something for the holidays bigger than life," Rodheim said.
But on Wednesday morning, Santa was gone. Shopkeepers first assumed it had been taken down to protect it against high winds. But a check revealed that someone had made off with the rooftop Santa, which had been anchored by 200-pound sandbags, ropes and attached to powerful lights and a blower to keep it inflated.
"They took the sandbags out. They took the lights out. The lines were still there," Rodheim said.
A sheriff's supervisor said Friday evening he had no details on the alleged theft.
Rodheim appealed for the public's help in finding Santa. And he said merchants would take down Frosty today to prevent a similar heist.
"It looks a little lonely," he said.