No one knows how long the cross had been by a gate along Skyline Boulevard in the hills above San Mateo. But it appears the thief or someone who has been storing it may have been overcome by guilt -- attached to it was a printed note that said in part, "It is in fact the Mojave cross... I would be very grateful if you would be so kind as to notify the appropriate authorities."
The Mojave Memorial Cross had been sitting atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County since 1934, erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to honor those who served in World War I. But it was cut off its metal base and stolen two years ago. The cross was covered by a wooden box at that time as a result of a decade-long legal battle. Because Sunrise Rock sits inside the Mojave National Preserve, the American Civil Liberties Union had argued it violates the separation of church and state.
The VFW has been planning to dedicate a replacement for the stolen cross this Sunday for Veterans Day.
"It's simply one of closure now; we've got it back hopefully if it's the real one, if not, we have the property, have a replica to put in its place, and we also have a replica of the plaque that was stolen, that's going to be mounted on Sunrise Rock, and we're moving forward," VFW state adjutant Jim Rowoldt said.
The Mojave cross site is in a remote area of San Bernardino County. Barstow is the closest city. Why it was transported 400 miles to San Mateo County is a mystery. With Veterans Day coming up, was guilt a factor in its re-appearance?
"Do people have guilty consciences? I don't know the answer to that; some do, some don't," Rowoldt said. "So if that's the case and it's authentic, then thank you for returning it."
For now, the cross is in the custody of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.
"We'll start reaching out, making some contacts, notifying our detective bureau will start making calls to Southern California and see if we can get this back to its rightful owner and get it back to its rightful spot," San Mateo County Sheriff's Sgt. John Gonzalez said.
The cross was taken to the sheriff's sub-station in Half Moon Bay. VFW leaders hope to be given custody of it and drive it to Southern California this weekend.