Is a woodchuck stealing American flags from a cemetery in Western Mass.? Police think so

JUNE 3, 1997: DANVERS: After a look around, woodchuck heads out for a walk on the grounds of the former Danvers State Hospital (now vacant). GLOBE STAFF PHOTO/JOHN BLANDING
John Blanding/Globe Staff/File
Police believe a woodchuck, not unlike this one, could be responsible for the desecration of American flags at the Bellevue Cemetery in Adams.

This sounds like a job for Carl Spackler.

A curious critter is apparently to blame for the desecration and removal of American flags that were placed next to veterans’ graves in the town of Adams, according to officials.

“Of all the things that go on in today’s world,” said Police Chief Richard Tarsa, “we have a woodchuck problem in our cemetery, stealing flags.”


At first, residents thought the flags were being taken up and stolen from the Bellevue Cemetery by a nefarious vandal.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Earlier this month, someone posted about the desecrations in a Facebook group for people from Adams, a small community in Berkshire County.

People upset by the news took it upon themselves to go out and replace the flags by hand. Then more flags went missing, according to the Berkshire Eagle, so the issue was raised with police.

After receiving the complaints, officers dug into the case. Tarsa said officers discovered a hole in the ground near where the flags were planted — and shreds of evidence leading to their alleged perpetrator.

“There is an active woodchuck burrow up there, and if you look around in the dirt there are pieces of fabric and pieces of a wooden stake,” Tarsa said in a telephone interview. “Right now, there is every indication that it’s quite possible a woodchuck is using [the flags] in its burrow.”


On the Facebook discussion about the flags, residents conceded that they’ve seen the rodents in the cemetery, “ripping and eating them” and “doing the breaking of the flags.”

Tarsa said around 12 to 18 flags were either stolen or damaged, but as the story has circulated online and been told around town, that number has fluctuated considerably.

“It has been blown out of proportion,” he said. “We had 75, we had 50, we had 100 — it’s nowhere near that.”

Tarsa said he was curious about why a woodchuck — also known as a groundhog — would steal flags for its home, so he looked it up online.

Sure enough, he said, there was a similar incident in Hudson, New York, in 2012. In that instance, a camera was set up after roughly 75 flags went missing from graves at the Cedar Park Cemetery. Police were able to capture a picture of a woodchuck standing by the flags, and later found a hole providing “circumstantial evidence” that the animal was to blame.


According to MassWildlife, the “chunky, ground-dwelling squirrels” are abundant statewide, and are known to stack mounds of dirt and rocks at the entrance of their burrows.

While there’s no concrete evidence that a person is responsible for the crime, police said the case is still under investigation and they’re “keeping an eye on the cemetery.”

Tarsa, who has been police chief since 2013 and worked in the town of Adams since the 1980s, said police often deal with animal-related incidents, specifically, bears.

But this?

“This is a new one,” he said.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.