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The World’s Greatest Bicycle Thief Was a Policeman

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

There’s no proof – since there’s no global database for it, and Guinness does not include it in its world records – but it’s highly likely that the most prolific bicycle thief of all time was a former policeman named Igor Kenk. The Slovenian national was born on April 7, 1959, in Maribor, and moved to Toronto in February 1988.

Officially, Kenk is “credited” with stealing 2,685 bikes in and around Toronto but when police raided his Bicycle Clinic bike-repair shop, his home and the ten garages he’d rented in the city on July 16, 2008, they seized more than 3,000 bicycles. His shop was so crammed with stolen bikes that police were blocked by the Fire Department from entering through the front door and the bikes had to be lowered by firemen by rope from upper-story windows.

Igor Kenk in an undated police photo.

For good measure, in the raid police also found 7 kilograms of marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine as well as a stolen bronze sculpture of a centaur and a snake in battle. And they also arrested his live-in girlfriend, a concert pianist named Jeannie Chung. In addition to bicycles, the eccentric Kenk also loved postmodern classical music. He was arrested after the police, noticing a drastic spike in bicycle thefts, planted bikes around the city and kept an eye on them. Eventually, they spotted Kenk and another man approach two bikes, cut the locks and pedal away. Yes, he had accomplices. Kenk was regarded locally as an unofficial social worker for he hired men who were destitute or suffered from psychological problems to help him repair bikes and, as it turned out, to steal them.

Why did he do it? Well, for the money, of course. Kenk was known around town as “the stolen bike guy”. The police encouraged people to check his shop when a bike disappeared. He would then reunite the bike and the owner for a fee. Kenk held a so-called second-hand license, which meant that ownership of a used bike transferred to him 15 days after he took possession. All he had to do was write down the name of the former owner and the serial number of the bike. However, police believe that, since he had a scrap metal dealer’s license, he may have been waiting for a rise in metals prices before melting down the bikes and selling them as scrap.

Kenk himself has said that he was accumulating bicycles in preparation for a severe oil shortage. He warned people that global economic collapse was coming as well as a fossil fuel apocalypse that would make cars obsolete and bicycles essential. In a post-apocalyptic world, he saw himself emerging as an urban bike lord. His bike repair shop became known as Planet Igor. However, in a later radio interview, he claimed to be a crusader against bicycle theft and a protector of castoff bikes. Kenk was just as confusing about his past, claiming at his trial that he was a former Slovenian police officer and KGB agent and telling reporters after a court session, “I’m a dead man.”

Kenk eventually pleaded guilty to 10 counts of bicycle theft and 6 drug charges and was sentenced to 30 months in jail but he served only a little more than half of the sentence. He disappeared immediately after the trial but was discovered 10 years later in Switzerland by a filmmaker, who made a documentary about his life, Inside Kenk. There is also a comic book, Kenk: A Graphic Portrait.

So the man who was once considered the most hated person in bicycle-friendly Toronto has become a cult figure. Of the nearly 3,000 bikes he stole, only about 450 have been returned to their owners.