By Echo Menges
Knox County, MO – Saturday, August 13, 2022 – The vendor community of the Rutledge Flea Market returned to northeast Knox County for the first time since two recent burglaries were reported.
A healthy amount of vendors returned to the grounds to sell their wares Friday and Saturday, August 12 and 13. Returnees with year-round spaces took stock of their items upon return. Those hit hardest rolled up their sleeves and went to work in spite of the losses. Everyone welcomed a good crowd of buyers and sellers for the above average market weekend.
On Saturday morning, at the peak of the market, busy dirt and gravel roads buzzed with shoppers pulling carts, riding carts, biking and walking their way from vendor space to space. Keeping with the history and tradition of a “gun and dog sale weekend” puppies and small livestock animals peered from cages sprinkled throughout the grounds.
The aromas of the food stand offerings evolved from breakfast foods to lunch. The food stands stayed busy filling the bellies of the hungry buyers and sellers alike throughout.
“Everyone who got here early was pretty wound up about (the burglaries),” said the vendor at the Rust Heaven space. “I found my money box right here on the ground upside down. There was an ammo box turned over right there in the road. But they didn’t get any money from me,” he said with a smirk.
“They broke into the building,” said another vendor of miscellaneous items and antiques. “There wasn’t any money inside and they didn’t seem to take anything.”
“It’s sad about the food (they stole),” said Knox County native and longtime market vendor Richard Mauck while turning a hot kettle of sweet popcorn over an open flame. “If anybody needs any food, they could have asked. I’d give them some. Just ask. They don’t need to steal it. I would have given someone some food,” he said wiping his brow. “I love helping people. There’s nothing better than helping someone.”
A hunting and fishing year-round space was one of the spaces hit hardest during the burglaries with a large number of items stolen on both occasions, sometime on July 18 or 19 and again on July 31. The seller estimates taking a $1700 to $2500 loss during the break-ins and returned for the weekend in spite of it.
“I’ve always said that 99.9 percent of people are honest,” said the seller with a smile. “I guess that point one percent got me.”
In two years of making the over one-hundred-mile journey to sell at the market, he said he’s not ready to give it up.
“If this continues, of course, I’ll be thinking about going somewhere else. But I’m not there yet. There are a lot of good people here, and I’m planning to stay,” he said.
He won’t be taking any more chances. Rather than leaving his merchandise locked up at his space, he’s packing it up and taking it with him when he heads out of town.
“It’s too bad because it’s hard on me to unpack and pack everything every month,” he said.
“Something good always comes out of something bad,” said the vendor at Shawnie’s Bigfoot Tenderloins who was among those hit hardest. The seller lost over 15 cases of tenderloins, a large amount of other food items and about $100 in change.
“The vendors all stick together,” said the vendor at the neighboring food space called Midway Cafe – who also took a big hit during the burglaries. “This is hard work. This isn’t easy work. Financially, it has hurt because we had to re-buy.”
Not only was the Midway Cafe building broken into and many food items stolen, the ATM machine outside was cut open and torn apart by the thieves.
The frustrated food vendors kept each other in good spirits, also, in spite of the burglaries. They were hopeful local law enforcement would be more engaged in the investigation, reporting they felt unsupported by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
“They didn’t seem to care. (The thieves) left the cutting tool they used laying next to the machine. They didn’t care to take it for evidence, fingerprint it, or anything,” said the vendor at Midway Cafe.
“The police didn’t seem to care much about it,” said the hunting and fishing goods vendor. “If (the thieves) come back, I’m sure they’ll run into some boobie-traps.”
Anna’s Sweet Shack, also hit hard, took two major blows during the burglaries. The vendor restocked the building after being hit the first time to be hit again during the second round of burglaries.
Several vendors reported believing the thieves had knowledge of the layout of the grounds, the best spaces to burglarize and when no one would be on the property, which is an uncommon occurrence.
“Somebody knows something,” said the hunting and fishing goods vendor. “It wasn’t a one-man job. Probably meth-heads.”
“They are either one of us, or they know the grounds,” said the seller at the Rust Heaven space.
The market community felt the loss of their neighbors giving or doing what they could to help. Many were relieved to have suffered little losses, and supportive of those who fared worse.
The Rutledge Flea Market operates one weekend a month March through November. In total, there are 700 vendor spaces available for rent with many vendors who rent year-round space returning to sell every month of the market season.
The flea market attracts visitors from throughout the region and beyond. It is located in a rural area near the Knox, Scotland, Lewis and Clark county lines.
The owner/operators of the flea market reported they have taken more security measures across the grounds, and continue to offer a $2500 reward to anyone with information leading to a conviction.
Sellers operating year-round spaces also reported they are taking more security measures going forward. All of them have plans to return monthly for the rest of the flea market season.
The Knox County Sheriff declined to comment on the progress of the investigation into the burglaries that took place on the grounds last month.
“You don’t need to talk to us,” Knox County Sheriff Allen Gudehus told The Edina Sentinel on Friday morning, August 12. “You get it all from the victims.”
Anyone with information about the recent burglaries is asked to report it to local law enforcement immediately.
In spite of being disappointed and frustrated by the recent thefts and break-ins, which effected over a dozen market vendors, spirits were high during the August gun and dog sale weekend. And vendors remain optimistic for a strong finish to the season and look forward to the September through November sales opportunities.