By Tea Krulos

The Hodag Store Gift Shop in Rhinelander, WI

An unusually clad criminal attempted retail theft at the Hodag Store in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in March of 2022. The Hodag is a monster well known in Rhinelander, the state of Wisconsin, and beyond. In the 1890s a man named Eugene Shepard, Rhinelander’s resident prankster, claimed that he encountered a ferocious beast in the woods. He described this animal, which he called a “Hodag” as having giant fangs, a row of horns down its back, and sharp claws. He took a photograph of it, and those unaware of Shepard’s reputation as a hoaxer fell for it. Shepard had carved the creature from wood, using bull horns and paint to decorate it.

Photo os the captured "Hodag" taken by Eugene Shepard

Shepard kept the ruse going for several years before he was forced to admit to the prank. But since then, the Hodag has become a symbol of civic pride in Rhinelander. The high school football team is named “The Hodags,” there’s a Hodag Country Festival, and a magnificent Hodag statue can be found outside the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce. The Hodag Store, painted a bright, Hodag green, is a shop filled with any sort of Hodag souvenir you could possibly want– t-shirts, stickers, stuffed animals, books, frisbees, and much more.

Security cameras at the store caught something as odd– a loudly dressed woman shoplifting at the Hodag Store, stuffing her purse with a bottle of Hodag vodka and other items. Retail theft is an unfortunate reality for mom-and-pop stores, but when a still from the security camera footage was posted online, people pointed out that the shoplifter was dressed similarly to a legendary, globetrotting thief, Carmen Sandiego.

Security footage of the alleged shoplifter

“Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” debuted as an “edutainment” video game in 1985, presented on floppy disc format for the Apple II computer. It’s had many incarnations since, notably as a PBS game show 1991-1995 and recently as an animated Netflix show. Sandiego is depicted as having a red, wide-brimmed hat, that obscures the upper half of her face, and a long red jacket. She is, as the theme to the PBS show states, “a sticky-fingered thief filcher from Berlin down to Belize” and that she’ll “stick ‘em up Down Under and go pick-pocket Perth.”

This Carmen Sandiego-wannabe was not as slippery as the fictional character. Local law enforcement quickly picked her up (possibly due to her garish attire) and were able to return the stolen merch to the Hodag Store. That’s some good work, gumshoes!

Check out the Hodag Store at 538 Lincoln St., Rhinelander, WI 54501. Their website is at thehodagstore.com