Russell Lands Chief of Security poses with the recovered tomahawk inside his office. | Submitted
Russell Lands Chief of Security poses with the recovered tomahawk inside his office. | Submitted

Archived Story

Police recover tomahawk

Published 7:56pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wetumpka man charged with theft of Indian hatchet

By David Goodwin, Outlook Staff Writer
When Poor Ol’ Kowaliga never got a kiss, that was bad enough. But this past weekend, someone stole the iconic wooden Indian’s ceremonial tomahawk.

The hand-crafted brave who guards the entrance of Kowaliga Restaurant on Lake Martin was robbed of his hatchet Saturday night.

But at least he got his tomahawk back.

Russell Lands Chief of Security Mack Daugherty said cameras captured a man not-so-stealthily stealing the intricately carved tomahawk around 8:40 p.m.

A little more than 72 hours later, Daugherty and Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin arrested 41-year-old Darrian Trent Johns at his home on Grass Farm Road. Johns then led Franklin and Daugherty to a fruit stand in Red Hill where the tomahawk was hidden, Franklin said.

Johns is being held at the Elmore County Jail on a second-degree theft charge.

“There were a lot of upset people, and not only from Russell Lands,” Daugherty said. “Just about everyone who came to the restaurant had photos made with the kids and Kowaliga, so in just three months, he had become part of the lake again.”

Russell Lands paid a Titus-area sculptor around $15,000 for the larger-than-life carving of the wooden Indian made famous in a song by country legend Hank Williams. The statue is a key attraction at the company’s new and improved Kowaliga Restaurant, which reopened in April.

Only replacing the tomahawk would have cost around $1,200, Daugherty said.

On the video, Daugherty said, Johns allegedly walks into the restaurant and begins studying the Hank Williams memorabilia that decorates the lobby. He was wearing a rain jacket that night, with which he tried to obscure his face. The video portrays the thief as he “checks every direction, backs up to the statue and lifts up on the tomahawk” but then walks away as a hostess returns to the front desk.

When left alone again, Daugherty said, he made another approach to the statue, “pulls the tomahawk back up, stuffs it in his pants, pulls his jacket down and calmly walks out the door.”

“It was so blatant,” Daugherty said.

Once they had a name and address, Daugherty and Franklin — lifelong friends and law enforcement colleagues — took it on themselves to stake out the house on the 4100 block of Grass Farm Road. When Johns emerged, he was read his rights and taken into custody.

The trio then drove to Red Hill, where they found the tomahawk stashed away in a roadside fruit stand. Johns was cooperative, Franklin said, “and realized he made a mistake.”

“We needed to try to retrieve it pretty quickly,” Franklin said. “We thought they might throw it in the lake or burn it so they wouldn’t get caught with it.”

Franklin said he didn’t know a motive but suspected Johns had been drinking for a while that Saturday, which “probably had some bearing on what (allegedly) went on.”

Daugherty noted that Poor Ol’ Kowaliga has been under constant video surveillance since he was delivered to the remodeled restaurant and that surveillance will continue.

“That was a very useful tool in solving this crime,” he said.

Daugherty said Kowaliga would be reunited with his tomahawk very soon, though it might have to be borrowed again for Johns’ day in court.

Franklin said Johns’ case will likely come up before the October grand jury.