A reward is offered for this decorative turtle stolen from outside the former Leatherback’s restaurant site in Madeira Beach.
MADEIRA BEACH – Sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on May 26, thieves heisted a larger-than-life loggerhead sea turtle from its pedestal outside of the former Leatherback’s restaurant site on Madeira Way.
The brilliantly decorated creature is a rare item, valued at around $5,000. The turtle sculpture is one of 92 that were part of the Tampa Bay Tour of Turtles, a community art/environmental awareness campaign that ran 2000 to 2002. The turtles were decorated by noted artists, including pop art icon Peter Max, “Blondie” comic strip creator Dean Young, prominent local painters, and children from area schools.
An auction of the turtles held following the tour raised $250,000 for local charities, primarily the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The works of art brought prices ranging up to $15,000.
The stolen turtle, named Zahava, is one of two that adorned the entryway of the former Leatherback’s Steakhouse. The more plain companion, decorated with seashells, was left undisturbed.
No one had bothered the turtles since Leatherback’s closed last year. The fact that the thieves acted in daylight, with contractors preparing the site for the arrival of a new tenant, was amazing to Madeira Beach Mayor Pat Shontz, who owns the property.
“When I first heard the turtle was gone, I thought maybe it had walked over to the beach,” she jokingly remarked. Shontz based the time period of the turtle’s disappearance on the statement of a witness who said she always stopped to talk to the turtles on her way to catch an 8:30 a.m. bus. When she returned in late afternoon that day, the woman noticed Zahava was missing.
Shontz said the turtle was a popular attraction, affectionately remembered by former Leatherback’s patrons and passersby.
“It was like it belonged here, greeting all the many people who passed by,” she said. “There was always somebody having their picture taken with that turtle.”
Zahava’s features include big red lips on her face and mermaids painted on her front side. On her flippers are the sun, moon and stars. While the brilliant colors may have faded over the past few years, this sea turtle will never lose its distinctive appearance.
Shontz and her husband George, who operated the famous Apple restaurant on the property for years, would like to have their beloved Zahava the turtle back. They are offering a $500 reward for information leading to its return.