It was early on April 21 when Christopher Cox emerged from the Hampton Inn in Kilgore, Texas, and realized: “They snatched my Yeti.” Cox knew it could happen — a mechanic at his company, an oilfield supply firm, had lost his Yeti in the same lot the week before. Still, it was surprising: Cox’s Yeti Tundra 160 would’ve weighed about 300 pounds half-filled with ice water, he figured, and it would’ve taken two or three guys to move. His boss teased him for being so careless. Then a week later, the boss’s Yeti went missing too. Cox figures the bandit got nine of the company’s coolers (a total value of $6,300) in a few months. It was the most brazen run of white-cooler crime the country has ever seen.
The Yetis kept disappearing, dozens of them by the end of Spring, police say, plucked from the trucks of traveling roughnecks in hotel parking lots along East Texas highways. The thefts always went down the same way: A thief would pull into an empty lot after midnight and see his prize peeking up over the truck bed wall. Locked coolers were easily freed with a few quick snips of the cable cutters. Then the cooler snatcher would haul the prize back to his truck and cruise off into the night, the racing stripes on his tailgate the last thing the security cameras saw.
Police issued warnings to be on the lookout for the “Yeti bandit,” and local TV news ran with the story. “I was inundated with calls from all over the counties here, and in Dallas,” says Kilgore Police Detective Tim Dukes. He and other officers eventually tied seven cooler cases to a single suspect, but he thinks the Yeti thief was responsible for many more. “There was no way I could've proved it,” he says.
You could say such a crime spree was bound to happen. Like the out-of-control rise of rare bourbons (and their rash of bourbon criminals), high-end, industrial-sizes coolers — almost exclusively made by Yeti — have becoming something of a status marker, particularly in the South and Midwest. If you’ve got Air Jordan or Lululemon money, but prefer to unwind by bass fishing and deer hunting, you can say it with a Yeti. Even if you’re not so well-off (these are $1,000 coolers we’re talking about), you can put on a Yeti hat, slap a Yeti sticker on your truck, and dream. In Texas, Yeti’s growth roughly coincided with an oil and gas boom that quickly enriched rural landowners and workers — the type of folks who’d splurge on a shiny new Ram or F-250 truck, then quickly see the utility of a high-end cooler to accessorize the bed.
Joseph Dobbs was one such Yeti Bandit victim. An oilfield worker in Longview, Texas, Dobbs had just dropped $400 on a Yeti Tundra 65. He hadn’t even used it when he opened his closet door to find it missing. Unlike Cox or other former Yeti owners nearby, Dobbs knew exactly who took it: Tanner Beattie, an acquaintance — his roommate’s friend, actually — who’d join them for nights out drinking and hang out at their apartment. The guy made no secret about how he’d been making his money lately. Beattie bragged, Dobbs says, about lifting a load of Yetis from out behind a bar in Tyler, and scoring dozens more from fishermen at the Big Bass Bonanza. Dobbs says Beattie talked openly about how he’d snip the cable locks from coolers and re-sell them on Craigslist. “He's been doing it forever,” says Dobbs. He guesses that Beattie’s snagged more than 100 coolers over time. “I thought he'd never do it to me.” Dobbs waited a month, hoping to coax an apology from Beattie. It never came, so he called the Longview, Texas, police.
Beattie was no criminal mastermind. A star pitcher in high school, Beattie had moved on to his college baseball team. But as a 24-year-old junior, he was pitching from the bullpen. His major-league dreams were fizzling out. His Twitter feed — once laden with inspirational baseball quotes, some of them his own — had started to suggest he knew that he was on his last season. Before going quiet in February, one of his last tweets was, “There comes a point where you ask yourself is it even worth it anymore.” He’d never had trouble with the law before, but with his future in limbo, the rich out-of-town oilfield workers with their new trucks and fancy coolers started to look like tempting marks.
As Beattie started making cash off the coolers by unloading them anonymously online, Detective Dukes was building a profile of the bandit. There was Dobbs’ report from Longview, which included Beattie’s name and phone number. Another lead came from Cox, who went looking for his $700 Yeti 160 on Craigslist and actually found it, listed by someone named “Tanner.” Together, the reports suggested a bold, if not especially shrewd, criminal at work. In photos of local Yetis for sale on Craigslist, Detective Dukes also noticed that the truck background matched a gray Dodge truck with white racing stripes he’d seen in surveillance footage. On May 13, Dukes emailed Tanner to arrange a buy.
Before the sting could go down, another officer spotted Beattie’s truck parked at Rudy’s Convenience Store in Kilgore. Stashed inside were $900 in cash, a pair of yellow-handled wire cutters, and a Yeti cooler. In his booking photo, Beattie sports a broad smile over a standard jail-issue black plastic poncho, looking a bit like the world’s friendliest Batman. It was his first serious run-in with police, and even though he was grinning in his mug shot, police reports suggest that he melted during the interview, confessing to every theft they knew about and some they didn’t. Beattie cut a deal with prosecutors and got two years’ probation plus six weekends in jail. No restitution was included in the deal, which bothers Cox and other victims — although Dukes hinted Beattie may still have more charges in the future.
Since Beattie’s arrest, Dukes says the Yeti thefts have stopped. Look on Craigslist today around East Texas, and if you find a Yeti, you’re likely to find a note promising that it’s not stolen. With the downturn in the oil business lately, the market for bargain Yetis is on the rise. “We did the best of the best when everything was boomin’,” Cox told me. “Times are a little different these days. We just don't get to buy those things like we used to.” Cox did get his company to replace the Yeti in his work truck, but Yeti loyalist though he is, he can’t bring himself to buy one of his own. “I'm afraid somebody’ll steal it,” he says.