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Paper trail wasn't hard to follow

Tip to Kern County burglars: Don't pay court fines with marked dollars stolen from a local landmark.

September 30, 2008|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

For 60 years, happy diners at the now-shuttered Homestead tacked dollar bills to the walls, dated and inscribed with a line or two to mark the occasion.

A tradition in the high-desert hamlet of Inyokern, it made the cozy, wood-paneled restaurant a place to remember.

So when a man last week used 10 of the bills -- some inked with the word "Homestead" -- to pay part of a court fine, a clerk remembered.

The man and four alleged accomplices were arrested on suspicion of stealing as much as $8,000 in the hanging currency. About $1,000 has been recovered, including several hundred dollars that the group had exchanged for bigger bills at local banks, police said.

"Part of the place's charm was all the old bills, all the memories," said Michael Scott, senior deputy in the Kern County sheriff's office. "Everybody in town knew exactly where they came from."

Closed for about a year, the Homestead has been up for sale. The bills and furnishings have been kept in place for prospective buyers -- and for locals in the sparsely settled area midway between Los Angeles and Mammoth Mountain.

"There are people who would put up a dollar bill on every one of their anniversaries," said Mary Lundstrom, a Ridgecrest real estate agent who lists the property.

"When the owners mentioned taking down the dollar bills, the town said, 'Don't you dare!' "

If throwing traceable bills around town doesn't seem too sharp, consider this: One of the alleged burglars was found with Homestead thumbtacks in the soles of his shoes, police said.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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