Pilfered primates found in Florida

2013-09-19T15:00:00Z 2013-09-19T21:06:09Z Pilfered primates found in FloridaBy NICHOLAS BERGIN / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Two little gibbons stolen from a rural Nebraska home have been found in Fort Myers, Fla., where authorities arrested the twin brothers suspected of taking them.

Nancy Stephens, who owns the 2-foot-tall black apes with white faces and hands and feet, told police they were taken from an upstairs room of her rural Doniphan home before dawn Monday. And, she told them, she suspected Michael and Jacob Ruehlman.

She met the 20-year-old twins, who live in Fort Myers, on the Internet. They stayed with her over the summer and left July 14 without saying goodbye, according to a Lee County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office report.

This week, word of the disappearance of Caylee and Cody spread quickly.

Deborah Misotti, owner of the primate rescue Talkin' Monkeys Project Inc., knew both Stephens and the twin brothers through Facebook. She contacted Jacob Ruehlman, who agreed to meet at a Waffle House in Florida and give her the gibbons, which are listed as endangered.

Before they could meet, a Lee County deputy sheriff stopped the twins' Ford Focus at 2:47 a.m. Thursday and found the gibbons in a cage in the back seat, according to the sheriff's report.

Authorities turned the gibbons over to the Talkin' Monkey Project for safe-keeping during the investigation, the sheriff's office said.

Stephens got a call early Thursday about the arrests and, a little later, learned the gibbons were OK, said her daughter Melissa Stephens.

“She is happy they are safe and in a safe environment,” she said Thursday. “And when they are home, she will be more excited.”

Nancy Stephens spent much of the day Thursday trying to get the OK to pick them up and making travel arrangements, her daughter said.

She said her mom thought the Ruehlman brothers were friends and was shocked at the disappearance of the gibbons, which she considers members of her family.

“They are not just pets to us,” Melissa Stephens said.

The gibbons are worth about $25,000, according to authorities.

The sheriff's office arrested the brothers on suspicion of dealing in stolen property. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is expected to pursue charges related to having an endangered primate without sufficient permits.

And in Nebraska, Hall County officials plan to file burglary charges.

Reach Nicholas Bergin at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSBergin.

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