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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: February 14, 2013

Who’s the Valentine’s Day Bandit?

Written by: Shannon Bryan

Maybe Portlanders lack curiosity. Maybe that’s why no one’s ever staged a successful overnight sting to capture and identify the elusive Valentine’s Day Bandit.

Nah. It’s just nicer to imagine there’s stealthy local cupid with supernatural powers walking among us. Because maybe there is. How else would such an awesome annual tradition stay alive for nearly four decades?

// 14 photos of the Valentine’s Day Bandit’s handiwork

Those simple red hearts first appeared on downtown storefronts back in 1976. Here’s an excerpt from a story first published by the Portland Press Herald in 2001 that gives us modern-day paper heart appreciators some history:

– Written by Beth Brogan, news assistant, with research by Beth Murphy

On Feb. 14, 1976, Portland residents awoke to find hundreds of red hearts, printed on white 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper, taped to doors, windows, telephone poles – just about any surface available in downtown Portland.

Police and city officials were baffled, with no idea who had sneaked through the city during the wee hours of Valentine’s Day to adorn buildings with this symbol of love.

The next year, a newspaper reporter set out to track down the “Valentine’s Day Phantom.”

One print shop employee remembered a man in his early twenties ordering 1,000 copies of the red heart. The job order listed the customer as “Mr. Thought.” A check of his address showed that one “Ian Valentine” lived there. Mr. Valentine denied any involvement.

That same year, a Portland policeman remembered seeing a 20-something with strawberry blond hair and a full beard in Congress Square around 2 a.m. The man told him, “I’m in love and I want everybody to be my Valentine.”

By 1979, the mysterious Valentine bandit had hit the federal building, the county courthouse, City Hall, the Holiday Inn, the Cumberland County Civic Center and even a handful of police cruisers.

The phantom reached new heights in 1984 when he hung white banners with red hearts, each about 20 feet by 35 feet, from the east wall of the Civic Center and from the Portland Museum of Art.

In 1986, he even made a trip to Fort Gorges in Casco Bay to hang a banner. That adventure almost ended the phantom’s nocturnal visits. The Island Romance ferry barely missed a small outboard carrying seven people.

Amid speculation that the bandit was rappelling from a helicopter or might even be Spiderman, the hearts continued.

One extra-special Valentine made an appearance along Congress Street (in 2001). Flying proudly atop the Central Fire Station was a familiar white flag with a big red heart.


Of course, a little inquisition never hurt anyone. So we’ve decided to present a few potential Valentine’s Day Bandit suspects:

Loren Coleman, founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum

Why he’s a likely suspect: Loren is a master of the mysterious, the unknown, and the inexplicable. And he’s not one to keep those mysteries to himself. Loren likes to spread the wonder around…perhaps by taping it to shop windows! Also, he has help:






Governor Paul LePage

Why he’s a likely suspect: It ain’t easy being a politician. You’ve gotta draw hard lines, get tough, and maybe vent and yell a bit. Your soft said never gets a word in…unless it’s covert. As the Valentine’s Day Bandit, LePage can let his softie flag fly overnight and be back at the Blaine House by dawn.
Why it’s probably not him: The governor has a budget to balance. If he was the bandit, he wouldn’t splurge on color printouts.






Everyone who works at FedEx Office

Why they’re likely suspects: Who else has that kind of access to color copiers and reams of white paper? Add in the central location (all hearts spread out from there, don’t they?) AND a whole militia of efficient employees AND a fondness for overnighting things and you’ve got yourself a whole store of culprits.
Why it’s probably not them: Plain white paper? One red heart? While wonderful in its simplicity, FedEx Office would get craftier. I’d expect to see heavy card stock, presentation-level cover graphics, and banners of hearts bound together with those spirally things business people use on reports.






Occupy Maine

Why they’re likely suspects: On Valentine’s day, hearts really do occupy just about everything in town. It could be that Frank, the Heart Leader, got involved with the Occupy Maine movement while it was camped out in Lincoln Park and has decided to launch his own heart-centric branch of the organization.






Tenderheart Bear

Why he’s a likely suspect: First off, can you verify Tenderheart’s whereabouts last night? Or for the last ten years? He’s been underground (or, more likely, in a box in our parent’s attic) with plenty of time on his hands. Those hearts are Tenderheart’s fingerprints. Besides, the time’s they are a-changing. Even the Care Bear Stare has to adapt.






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