A new breed of news junkie
She called the Post distributor, who said the records showed her newspapers were being delivered as usual.
In the summer days that followed, one neighbor after another suffered the same fate. Copies of The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner and The Gazette disappeared from every front step on McArdle’s small, tightly knit street in Chevy Chase.
The news was being stolen from Windsor Place.
‘‘We would go days, weeks without getting our newspapers,” said McArdle’s next-door neighbor Bill Harlan.
And the trouble spread, McArdle said. She heard secondhand stories of newspapers disappearing from nearby Thornapple Street.
The puzzling trend continued for a month, until McArdle woke early one morning and discovered the culprit. McArdle watched from her window as a red fox trotted up, snatched the newspaper in its jaws and sauntered off.
McArdle tracked down the fox’s den, dug into a hill behind neighbor Jim McKay’s house. Newspapers were strewn along the dirt path leading to the den — enough to fill a newsstand. McArdle gathered 37 on her first trip.
‘‘Every day, it would be close to 17 all over the field,” McArdle said.
The fox has since attained near-legendary status among the handful of residents on quiet, suburban Windsor Place.
Residents said the fox was a mother who had just given birth to several pups in a den behind the homes on Windsor Place. Everyone in the neighborhood was used to seeing foxes, deer and other wildlife emerge from the three-acre wooded area at the end of the road. Red foxes have lived peacefully in the neighborhood for six to eight years, helping to keep the rodent population in check, Harlan said.
But this fox’s seemingly insatiable taste for newsprint has stumped residents and even wildlife experts.
‘‘Sometimes foxes have an odd behavior, and if you think about it long enough, it might make sense,” said Pete Jayne, associate director for Maryland’s game management program. ‘‘This one defies any explanation for me.”
Red foxes inhabit the entire state of Maryland, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. They are the size of a small dog, weighing 10 to 14 pounds. Foxes have adapted to urban and suburban environments. They feed on rodents, plants and other small animals.
Jayne said people in Maryland often call during mid- to late June with questions about foxes. Usually the caller has encountered a naïve pup that hasn’t learned how foxes are supposed to behave. Jayne has heard of foxes eating from pet food dishes, following gardeners around as they pull weeds or watching intently as someone hangs laundry.
‘‘But I’ve never heard of them hoarding newspapers,” Jayne said.
‘‘I think it was just her instincts,” said Jim McKay, whose backyard provided a home for the fox. McKay and other neighbors suspected the fox was making a nest for her pups with the newspapers but got a little carried away. Jayne said the nesting theory was unlikely.
Now that the pups have grown into young foxes, the family seems to have abandoned its den. Neighbors suspected that heavy construction on Windsor Place house may have disturbed the mother fox and sent her and the pups elsewhere. The last fox spotting was up to a full month ago, and the den was empty last week.
Only one trace of the fox remains: Two old, yellowed newspapers in the dirt.
Back when the disappearing newspapers were a mystery, McKay said he just wanted to know ‘‘where in the hell is my paper?” But now that the fox is gone, he misses the sly newspaper thief. ‘‘I thought it was kind of fun to have them,” he said.