SYKESVILLE, Md. - Karen Jacob's chickens have come home to roost.
Well, actually, they were brought home by a man who "mistakenly" took them off of her gated Sykesville farm property after setting off a frantic viral search for a family's beloved, prize-winning poultry in perhaps the last feel-good Maryland story of 2013.
"We feel totally mind-boggled right now," Jacob, a mother of two boys: Evan, 8, and Erik, 11, said.
The chickens flew the coop Sunday, with the help of, or rather, by way of the misunderstanding of a man named Frank (No last name given.) He left $40 for the hens, and a note about what he had done, which police collected as evidence.
"Sorry I couldn't find you," Jacob said, reciting the beginning of Frank's note. She said he scribbled "6 x 6 = 36" on a 3x3-inch note before scratching out his math, deciding to leave $40 instead. The family occasionally sell eggs, but never whole chickens off their property. The Howard County 4H Fair, prize-winning chickens could fetch upward of $25 per hen, Jacob said, although the money wasn't what bothered her the most.
"The kids knew immediately, which ones were missing," Jacob said. Among them, Gilderoy Lockhart, Madam Pooch and Michelle Obrahma.
"Most of our chickens are named after Harry Potter characters," she said. ( Bonus: The Jacob family has a Barred Rock hen named Barred Rock Obama. Let that sink in.)
To the Jacob family, their chickens are more like pets and have in the last two years been used as 4H projects and teaching tools for the two boys who helped build their coop two years ago. Jacob filed a police report Sunday. She said she expected the officer to snicker at the theft.
"I'm so impressed that he took it seriously. He didn't laugh at us and he took it seriously," Jacob said. "I would've probably laughed it off."
Howard County police spokeswoman Mary T. Phelan added, "We do take every theft seriously, regardless of the particular item that was stolen. In this case it happened to be six chickens through a misunderstanding. We're happy that it was resolved."
Jacob also filed a Craigslist post the same day:
Someone named Frank came on to our private property and took 6 hens this afternoon. He left us $40.
"If you know of someone named Frank who has 6 chickens either as egg layers or as cooking chickens who just got them today (Sunday), please have him contact us immediately. These are our sons 4H projects and are PETS.
The messaged was received by Betty Colson, of Animal Advocates of Carroll County, and was posted to the group's Facebook page. The post was shared 15 times and linked out to other sources.
"The next thing I know I'm getting emails like crazy," Jacob said.
The group managed to track down Frank, who brought the chickens home Tuesday morning in his SUV.
"Chickens came out, happy as could be and they ran back right to the coop," Jacob said.
She described Frank as looking and feeling "mortified."
"[He was] very apologetic. … At first he didn't even want his money back," Jacob said.
Frank explained to Jacob that he was told the family sold chickens off of their property.
"We can't figure out the whole real story," Jacob said. "Somebody could've said it in casual conversation."
She conceded that she chuckled at the thought of a 50-year-old man chasing chickens around farm with a wire net, while they were out.
"It takes a few minutes for us to catch them," Jacob said. "And my chickens don't come to strangers. They're prey animals. They run away."
The silver-lining Jacob said is that her kids learned a valuable life lesson.
"My sons said the most important thing is that when you make a mistake you own up to it," Jacob said.
The bird-napping comes a year and a few days after Voldemort, another one of the family's flock, was killed by a hawk.
"My son said ‘it's a good thing I got a [Nintendo] 2DS for Christmas,'" Jacob said. "Then he said ‘In light of current events mom, do you think we'll be going out tonight?'"