Leo Chisholm helps return the kidnapped rooster to Byrnes. EJ photo/Travis Charlson


A five foot tall metal lawn ornament, lovingly known to Josh Byrnes and family as “Walt the Rooster”, disappeared from the Byrnes’ front yard on Good Friday, April 10. At first, they thought Walt had been stolen. Then a ransom note came in the mail and the Byrnes family quickly realized they’d been pranked.

We caught up with Byrnes to get the full story behind the rooster’s disappearance, and how the prank turned into a donation to the Mitchell County Food Bank. 

Josh Byrnes:

My son Nolan and I were in our John Deere Gator and we came by the front of the house over by the road. And I looked and I’m like, Nolan, ‘Where the hell’s the rooster?’. And he’s like, ‘What do you mean?’, I said ‘The rooster is gone’.

I sent Colleen, my wife, a message and I said, Our rooster in the front yard is gone. I have no idea where it’s at. I’m worried that somebody’s stolen it. It’s a big piece of metal, you know maybe somebody stole it and scrapped it.

Byrnes then posted on Facebook that his rooster had been stolen, and asked if anyone had seen or knew of Walt’s whereabouts. The post got over 250 shares, and lots of comments of contempt, disgust and vengeance were aimed at the unknown perpetrator. 

A source close the kidnappers, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said that those involved in the heist started to get a little nervous after Byrnes’s initial post and the anger it stirred up. 

There was debate, the source said, on what to do with the rooster and if they should just give it back. Instead, they sent a ransom note to Byrnes in the mail. 

Josh Byrnes hands and envolpe of checks over to Leo Chisholm on behalf of the food bank. Byrnes’s “ransom” raised over $6,000. Ej Photo/Travis Charlson

Byrnes on the fundraiser:

So we get a letter a day or two later and it’s like a kidnap letter, and we were like, “Oh, this is somebody playing games with us.” So literally we sat in the kitchen, I’m reading that letter, we’re laughing our butts off about it, and I said you know what — Let’s have fun with these people. Let’s create like a situation where we need to get a ransom.  Let’s donate it someplace — let’s do the Mitchell County Food Bank. 

Alex, Byrnes’s 22 year-old-daughter, then set up a Venmo account for people to submit online donations. Josh began posting the ransom notes on Facebook, which gathered quite a bit of attention around the county. 

Once people in the community heard the story, donations began pouring in, and the ‘ransom’ had quickly reached $1,000 overnight. 

The notes kept coming, too. The kidnappers had began hauling the chicken around to different locations in the county for their ransom notes — taking photos of the rooster in places like the ax throwing lanes at Limestone Brewers in Osage and outside of Milkhouse Candles, among others.

The final ‘ransom note’, which involved a series of riddles, led Byrnes to the parking lot of Mitchell County Food Bank on Friday, April 24. 

Byrnes then handed over $6,000 — the “ransom” money raised — to former food bank president Leo Chisholm. 

The media looks on as Josh Byrnes’s rooster is returned. EJ photo/Travis Charlson

Under cover of darkness, the kidnappers had met Chisholm at the fair grounds the night before, where they handed the rooster over to the long-time president of the food bank. 

Byrnes was finally able to get his rooster back, and helped turn what started as prank among friends into a generous donation.

“The one thing that’s amazed me, is [that] there’s been some really generous donations.” Byrnes said. “Like, $200 checks and $500 checks. This is amazing. I mean, that’s the cool part about Mitchell County.”

Byrnes and the rest of the community still don’t know who the kidnappers were, but the ‘anonymous source’ we talked to for this article opened up and revealed the identity of the culprits in our new podcast, where you can also hear the full story behind the kidnapping. Visit locallypodcast.com to hear the full interview!


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