The Rev. Allison Bauer was taking her dog for his daily walk in Beaver County recently when she approached the Frankfort Presbyterian Church in Hookstown, where she has been a minister since 2006.

She immediately noticed that the 500-pound brass bell, which usually sits beneath the front-yard sign, was gone. It wasn't the first time the bell had gone missing. After it disappeared two years ago, church members discovered three men had taken it to a facility in Ohio where they tried to sell it for scrap before police arrested them.

To prevent it from being stolen again, the church bell was welded to a metal stand sunk into a concrete pad deep in the ground but that didn't stop the latest thieves from cutting the welding and popping the bell from its stand. Considering the the value of the bell as scrap and the fact that so many people are struggling financially, Rev. Bauer wasn't surprised at the brazen theft.

Older churches have become targets for their copper pipes. The theft of wire and piping is much more common in buildings that are vacant or easy to break into.

Police in northern Berks County arrested five men believed to be behind a suspected copper theft ring that was responsible for eight burglaries since last December. The suspects, many of whom had drug issues, targeted vacant homes under foreclosure.

Police say they went to the trouble of gutting several homes by ripping out drywall and cutting out the copper piping from the showers and sinks. The stolen copper and metal was then sold to local scrap yards.

Here are some other recent thefts reported in The Times News:

Ÿ February 25 - State police urged scrap dealers in the region to report any incidents of receiving copper wire painted blue after about 260 feet of copper wire was stolen from a PPL substation off Route 209 in the Gilbert section of Polk Township.

Ÿ March 31 - A Lake Harmony man was charged with stealing almost $12,000 in copper tubing from nine homes in the Lake Harmony area. He entered the residences through the crawl spaces, eight of which were not locked.

Ÿ April 15 - A vacation home in Chestnuthill Township was robbed. After unscrewing a door to a crawl space, the thieves then cut about three feet of copper piping from under the house.

Ÿ May 2 - Lehighton State police investigated two burglaries in Polk Township in which copper piping was reported stolen. One home was entered through a crawl space while the second was entered through an unlocked rear door.

A Pennsylvania law passed in 2008 requires people selling materials to provide scrap and recycling yards with a license plate number, license information and a signature for all sales above $100. Thieves are usually caught when they take stolen material registered on the database to scrap yards.

Police are also helped by an ever-vigilant public reporting on suspicious activity, especially around unoccupied homes or businesses.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com