‘Old McDonald’ had a camera Hess says he’ll keep using the honor system even after five thefts in 10 days

By on November 2, 2011

By: WENDY KOMANCHECK Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Photo by Preston Whitcraft
Despite recent thefts, local farmer Dennis Hess still believes in the honor system.Photo by Preston Whitcraft
Despite recent thefts, local farmer Dennis Hess still believes in the honor system.

Many Lancaster County farmers use the honor system for the sale produce and baked goods. Dennis Hess, owner of Hess Produce at 870 Clay Road, relies on this system of trust, but he also uses a surveillance camera.

During a recent two-week stretch, two different men robbed his roadside stand. Both times, he was able to catch them using his camera. He reviewed older tapes to get a look at the two thieves and watch their body language. Hess has become astute in studying perpetrators’ movements, to the point where he can predict when they’ll strike again.

"What alerted me was the money box was empty," Hess said of suspect Luke Denlinger, who stole from the farm three times over a two-day period. "I went back over the tape after he took money the second time. I called the police to (watch the tape) and see if they could recognize the guy."

On tape, Hess watched as Denlinger helped himself to a loaf of banana or pumpkin bread and took money out of the cash box. The second time Denlinger stopped by, he took more money out of the box and took a can of soda. After that second time, Hess knew that Denlinger would be back for a third visit, which happened the same day at 6 p.m. when Hess and his wife, Darlene, were finishing up dinner.

When Hess saw it was the same perpetrator as earlier in the day, he grabbed his cell phone before heading out to his stand, which is located right next to his home. On his way out, Hess noticed that Denlinger’s car was still running, so he went around to the back of the car and pulled out the keys before apprehending Denlinger, who was in the process of stealing money from the cash box and another can of soda. Hess then called Warwick Township Police. Sergeant Richard Rhinier came right out to the stand.

"I got that back (the money and the soda), but he’ll still be charged with that (the attempted theft)," Hess said.

"Don’t you read the papers?" Hess asked Denlinger, when he apprehended him, in reference to the two robberies that occurred the week before and were printed in the Lititz Record Express on page A2.

Hess compares catching a thief to the same adrenaline rush he feels when he’s deer hunting. He’s intent on catching the crook, and he’s not afraid to confront him or her. Fortunately, he has never encountered a violent criminal.

"They need to be honest with me," Hess said.

Is it the recession that makes people steal from farmers’ honor boxes? Hess says no. He said he gets tagged about six times each season, and most of the perpetrators have been women.

Hess, and perhaps other farmers who use the honor system, expects some people to steal. But most of his customers honor the honor system.

"Most of my customers are honest," he said. "For the amount of business (that I do), the amount of abuse is not great. Hopefully, hopefully, I’ll get my money back."

Hess said that since he and his wife are getting older, he is thinking about cutting back on the amount of produce that he sells at his stand due to his heavy workload on the farm. He also sells through the Leola Produce Auction. However, he will continue to use the honor system, with some help from his camera. More THEFTS, page A17

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