Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Local News

February 10, 2011

Ransom note demands 100 hot dogs

Restaurant owner hopes to have photo album returned

A photo album, lost in October, is the reason 100 people will enjoy free food on Valentine’s Day in downtown Cleburne.

The album, which contains pictures dating from the 1800s, went missing four months ago from Garza’s Famous Chigo Hot Dogs Restaurant located at the corner of Chambers and Anglin streets.

Frank Garza, the building’s current owner, found the album last summer while going through the building’s upper floors.

When Garza’s son, Casey Garza, opened the hot dog shop in September, the album of vintage photos was available for diners to look through. Something the Garza’s subsequently called a less than wise decision.

After someone made off with the album, the Garzas issued a plea for its return. Four months on, both said they’d abandoned hope of ever seeing it again.

Until Wednesday that is.

The Times-Review, which ran several stories on the missing album, received a letter from someone claiming to have the album. The sender agrees to return the album, on one condition.

“I’m so sorry to report the missing photo album from 114 E. Chambers belongs to me and my family that dates back over 150 years,” the letter reads. “It was left on the three floor attic in 1937 by my great uncle who started his Funeral Parlor (Vincent Gray). photo enclosed as proof I have the album.

“I am willing to return in FULL this album to new owners if they agree to give away 100 Hot Dogs on Valentine’s Day for FREE!

“This will clearly show Johnson County how much the Garza’s Love their past & present residients. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY (DAY OF LOVE).”

The typed letter contains no name or signature. The envelope, postmarked out of Fort Worth on Tuesday, contains no return address.

Two pictures came with the letter. One, a tintype, shows a man seated near a table. The number 51 is written on the back of the photo proceeded by a blacked out number or letter.

The second photo is of a woman holding a baby in front of a car.

“His first ride,” the back of the photo reads. “Lallah & Thomas - age six weeks.”

A walk to Garza’s Wednesday morning, soon after the letter arrived, found Frank Garza just arriving to open the door.

“This is crazy,” Garza said after reading the letter. “These are definitely pictures from the album. I remember them.

“First the ghost stuff, then the paranormals, the album getting stolen, then Chico’s head getting stolen, now this. It’s weird.”

Garza referred to the numerous ghost and haunting stories tied to the more than 100-year-old building, and members of various paranormal groups who visited and investigated the building in recent months.

Chico is a mannequin made by and donated to the restaurant by a Keene soldier presently in Iraq, Garza said.

Placed in a lawn chair facing Chambers Street, Chico serves as the restaurant’s mascot, Garza said. Sometime between Feb. 1-5, while the restaurant remained closed because of bad weather, someone absconded with Chico’s head, leaving the rest of his body behind.

“I’ll have to talk to Casey,” Garza said reaching for his cell. “I don’t know if he wants to give away 100 hot dogs. That would be our cost, probably $150, $200.”

News of the letter proved equally shocking to Casey Garza.

“There’s a lot of crazy people out there, Garza said. “That’s nuts.”

At first, Garza said he’ll have to think about the demand for free hot dogs.

“I don’t know, we could split the cost maybe,” Frank Garza chimes in. “I think it would be worth it to try and get the album back.”

Casey agrees, which means the first 100 people in the door Monday will receive a free hot dog.

No free monster dogs, chili cheese, red hots or frito dogs, however.

The offer is limited to the basic dog, or what’s known at Garza’s as the Lonely Dog. Meaning a dog on a bun with mustard or ketchup.

“Guess we’ll make a sign that says first 100 customers get a free hot dog,” Frank Garza said. “We open at 11 a.m. Maybe we’ll stay open late if we don’t give them all away by 5 p.m.”

The problem, Casey said, is how to ensure the letter writer will hold up their end of the bargain.

“I would think they would make good on it,” Frank Garza said. “Man, I’ve never had anything like this happen before. It’s strange.”

Garza said he’s learned his lesson regarding valuable items left out for public perusal.

“You can’t trust people,” Garza said, shaking his head. “We were letting people handle that [album], and we really didn’t realize what we had.”

Should the album be returned, Garza said he intends to donate it to a museum.


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