In the middle of the night 25 years ago, rustlers pulled off one of the storied cow heists in Chester County history.
The target: a two-story sheet-metal bovine billboard that had stood in front of the Guernsey Cow restaurant along Route 30 in Exton since the end of World War II.
Somehow, the thieves scaled the 30-foot-tall heifer and made off with its head.
The crime was never solved, and what remains of the sign has sat in storage ever since.
Now a committee has formed to figure out a way to commemorate the historic cow and try to solve the cold case.
"We don't really know what we want to do yet," conceded Roberta Eckman, secretary of the West Whiteland Township Historical Commission. But recovering the head would be helpful.
Committee members are willing to go easy on whoever took it. They just want it back.
Before closing in the mid-1980s, the Guernsey Cow ice cream and sandwich shop was one of the most recognizable landmarks in Exton.
"The Cow," as it was known, grew up along with Philadelphia's suburbs.
The shop was called the Exton Dairy Grille when Larry Polite bought it in 1941 and renamed it.
At the time, Route 30 was "the trail west before we had any bypasses," Eckman said, and Polite thought a colossal cow sign would attract business. He had to wait, however, until the war was over to get enough sheet metal to construct his gigantic advertisement.
Polite, who died in 2006, hired a local artist to design a three-dimensional cow with blinking lights for eyes.
"Meet me at the Cow" became a popular local refrain, Eckman said.
Gail McCahon, who has lived in the area most of her life, remembers eating ice cream at the Cow during her childhood, when Exton was "the sticks" and the "fancy ice cream parlor" served as one of the only meeting places.
At the time, the only nearby developments were a Howard Johnson's and the Exton Lodge.
"All these places are gone" now, McCahon said.
The Guernsey Cow ultimately suffered from the decline in Route 30 traffic brought on by construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Extension in 1950 and the Exton Mall in 1973. It survived, in part, on the popularity of its caramels, which were shipped to customers around the country, said Sean McGlinchey, Polite's grandson and unofficial Cow historian.
(McGlinchey's website, theguernseycow.com, is a repository of old documents and pictures of the restaurant.)
Polite finally sold the restaurant in 1976, though he retained ownership of the building and sign. The restaurant limped along under various owners until 1986.
The building is now a Downingtown National Bank.
The sheet-metal cow's remains have sat in storage while fans have made several aborted attempts at putting up a historical display over the years.
Eckman hopes this latest attempt will end differently, but she acknowledged that money was tight for West Whiteland, the township that includes Exton and that could end up having to pay for any display.
The committee tasked with figuring out what to do with the cow has met only once - though it is eyeing the largely undeveloped Exton Park along Route 30 as a possible place to reerect the sign.
Whatever the committee does, McGlinchey said he hoped it would restore what remained of the cow to its former glory. Thanks to successive paint jobs, the cow's appearance has changed over time, and, McGlinchey said, "the final version of the cow just isn't the cow it used to be, just a cheap knockoff."
Finally, he said he may be close to solving the cow caper once and for all.
As McGlinchey told it, a few weeks ago his mother was taking a cab to the airport and struck up a conversation with the cabbie about the cow.
The cabbie claimed to have a buddy in Boston who was in possession of the head.
She left the driver her business card and asked him to get in touch with his friend.
So far, she hasn't heard back. Until she does, Exton's most famous farm animal might just have to remain headless.