Police Solve Mystery Of Skunky Smell That Attracted Burglars

By Victoria Kim 09/12/17

A local horticulture expert wound up helping the police crack the case of the mysterious odor.

Masked burglar with crowbar breaking and entering into a house

After getting robbed for no apparent reason, a UK couple now know the reason behind the break-in—a plant called Caucasian Crosswort.

The herbaceous perennial, also known as Phuopsis stylosa, is known for its tiny pink flowers and skunky smell. The odor attracted burglars with a not-so-discerning sense of smell to the couple’s home, thinking it was a cannabis grow operation. 

The aggravated burglary took place in early August in the English village of Winford, according to the Telegraph. When the masked suspects realized their mistake, they decided to help themselves to some of the couple’s personal belongings and some cash before booking it.

Police were at first unable to identify the source of the mysterious odor, as the couple knew nothing about cannabis growing in their garden. A local horticulture expert, Alan Down, was eventually called in—and after analyzing all of the “smelliest plants” in the garden, he found the source: Caucasian Crosswort. 

“The smell is so distinct, it really does smell like cannabis,” he told the Telegraph. Down says it's unusual to see the plant, native to Iran and parts of Asia, growing in the UK. Given the grief that the funky plant has put the homeowners through, the plant expert said: “I assume this couple will dig it up now.” 

Authorities surmise that the robbers were drawn to the home because of the smell. “We believe this smell may have led to a case of mistaken identity, with the offenders believing cannabis was being grown at the property,” a police spokesperson said. “We advised the victims to remove the plants.”

Police are still seeking additional clues about the burglary.

The Telegraph spoke with the previous owner of the house, who said she wasn’t the one who introduced the smelly perennial to the garden and always suspected foxes living in the area were behind the odor. 

Apparently this wasn’t the first case of a home invasion caused by an odiferous plant. According to the Bristol Post, another couple—77-year-old Ivor Wiltshire and his 79-year-old wife Margaret—found themselves in a similar mixup in 2008. But instead of robbers, it was police who broke into their home in search of the illegal herb.

Instead of weed, they found Phlox subulata, a flowering moss that also gives off a pungent smell that may be confused with cannabis.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr