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  • Tara Crutchfield

Unlikely Vandal Caught Mid-‘F’art

The time was 2:04 am on October 9, 2021. A security system picked up movement outside an arts organization in Winter Haven. An alarm rang out as management and police were alerted and raced to the scene to discover the cause of the disturbance. What would they find? Broken glass? Had they been robbed? Far worse… or should I say ‘fart’ worse. A thick green ‘F’ had been spray-painted in the middle of the sign. The Lake Art Association was now the Lake Fart Association.

“We felt like the butt of some bad joke,” said a spokesperson for the vandalized organization.

Convinced it was a one-off occurrence, just some kids with too much time and spray paint on their hands, the Polk County Sheriff’s Department was no less determined to sniff out the air biscuit bad actor responsible for this heinous crime.

“We wanted to keep things quiet,” said a representative for the PCSO. “We knew that if so much as a sharp squeak of this leaked, the attention could inspire others to commit similar acts.” Cheese-cutting copycats were something they couldn’t afford to risk.

It would turn out they didn’t have to wait long for breaking wind to become breaking news. The vandal would strike again just a week before Christmas. The sign for a city about 15 miles south of Lake Wales now read, “Welcome to Frostpoot… The Friendly City.”

The air was thick with unanswered questions and the upset stomach of Lady Justice – she was a rumblin’.

The new year got off to a crappy start as well. The signs, website landing pages, and social media accounts of dozens of local businesses and organizations were targeted with flatulent aggression. Not even long-standing and respected art institutions, schools, or galleries were spared. The Polk Museum of Fart, the Lake Wales Farts Council, Platform Fart, the Lakeland Fart Guild, Harrison School for the Farts, the Winter Haven Fine Farts Building, Farts on Central, the Polk Farts Alliance, Fart Centric Studio, and Fart/ifact were only some of those crop-dusted by this odorous offender, leaving citizens and law enforcement in a green cloud of confusion. Who could be behind it all? And what was their motive?

When the county seat was hit, it was game on for Polk County law enforcement. “We may have dropped the ball,” said detective Gary Cheeks, “but we can promise we won’t cut the cheese when we pick it up. And trust me, we will pick it up. Something about this whole situation stinks.”

Emotions were high when it came to the topic of the tooting troublemaker’s actions and potential identity. Folks were pointing and pulling fingers. Passersby were scandalized, enraged, or giggly at the cursive sign that read, “Fartow… Our history comes to life!” Next hit was the Greater Fartow Chamber of Commerce, followed a few days later by Fartow High School.

Polk County detectives knew there was one big target left and decided to bring federal reinforcement to catch this gassy goon before he could strike again.

“When we caught wind of what was going on, we knew we had to step in,” said an agent with the FBI’s Humorous Crimes Task Force. “We sent every available agent to Polk County and really let her rip with the investigation.”

For weeks local law enforcement in partnership with federal agents sniffed out leads and kept a presence at the only place yet vandalized, a local Ford dealership. After a month and a half with no action, an internal memo was sent out, “calling off” security around the dealership. This is how they would catch the bottom burp bad hombre.

For weeks there had been murmurings of an inside job – a dutch oven if you will. “I got a whiff from some of our deputies about rumors that this was one of our own. I didn’t want to believe it, but it’s hard to mistake your own brand,” said a lead investigator for the PCSO.

On March 1, 2022, at 11:57 pm, local deputies and federal agents surrounded the dealership and closed in on a masked Detective Gary Cheeks with spray paint in hand. Fartow Ford? Not in Grady Judd’s America. In hindsight, law enforcement officials say they should have suspected Cheeks much earlier due to his suspicious demeanor when “working” the case. Somehow he was able to fly under the radar for months – silent but deadly.

It would seem Cheeks fancied himself a spray-paint-wielding flatulence obsessed Guy Fawkes – leaving his mark wherever a toot joke was to be made. More like Guy Farts – am I right? During questioning, Cheeks admitted that he had acted alone. The only motive he would give, even after hours of tense interrogation, was simply, “Farts are funny.”

It seems Lady Justice popped a Gas-X, stifling this stinky plot. We can all breathe a little deeper now that disgraced former detective Cheeks is behind bars where he belongs. “We won’t be cutting this one loose anytime soon,” said the judge at Cheeks’ first court appearance.

Time-old adages often provide wisdom and clarity in otherwise hazy situations. In this case, he who smelt it…indeed dealt it.


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