IDYLLWILD: Alleged tip jar thief arrested after officials receive different type of tips

IDYLLWILD — After a nearly two-week investigation and search, sheriff’s officials announced they located and arrested a man accused of stealing a donation/tip jar from a well-known and award-winning Idyllwild area harpist.

Sheriff’s officials arrested Michael Kellner, 23, of Idyllwild after he allegedly stole a donation/tip jar from an Idyllwild-area harpist.

Following citizens’ tips, investigators from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Hemet Station located and arrested Michael McRae Kellner, 23, of Idyllwild. He was arrested Wednesday, Sept. 27.

“Investigators received information the subject was hiding inside a vacant residence located in the 53000 block of Country Club Drive,” Riverside Sheriff’s Sergeant Robert Duckett explained in a written press release after Kellner’s arrest. He was located about 6:30 p.m. and subsequently arrested shortly before 7 p.m., according to sheriff officials and jail records.

Kellner was booked into the Cois Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta on suspicion of theft, narcotic use and violation of probation, according to Duckett, who said, “Investigators believe Kellner is responsible for other crimes in the Idyllwild area, and are continuing their investigation.”

The donation/tip jar theft investigation began Friday, Sept. 15, about 6:20 p.m., when deputies were notified regarding the incident.

During their initial investigation, deputies learned Christian Chalifour, an Idyllwild area harpist, had been performing near Fairway Market and the Idyllwild Library in Strawberry Creek Plaza when a man approached and stole a donation jar Chalifour had set out.

Deputies gathered information and developed leads from several witnesses that helped them identify Kellner as the alleged theft suspect; however, they were not immediately successful in locating him.

Investigators from the Hemet Station eventually assumed the investigation and “surveilled the suspect’s known whereabouts” in their efforts to locate and question him about the reported theft, Duckett explained.

In an ironic twist, it was citizens’ tips that eventually led to the alleged tip jar thief’s whereabouts and ultimate arrest.

An online jail records search revealed Kellner remains in custody and is being held without bail. He is scheduled to be seen at an unspecified court Sept. 29.

Chalifour later thanked Idyllwild-area residents for their “generous outpouring of love and support” after the theft. Chalifour/Facebook image

In a Facebook post after the theft, Chalifour – who has played aboard cruise ships, in hotels and at restaurants around the world; including Tokyo, Paris, Vienna and London – said, “Who would’ve thought that someone would dash by this evening and steal my tip jar while I was playing in front of Fairway Market, right here on my home turf in Idyllwild.”

“While it was only $40 or so, I feel personally violated,” said Chalifour.

Chalifour later thanked Idyllwild-area residents for their “generous outpouring of love and support” after the theft.

A former pianist, Chalifour said he began playing harp in 1977. He later founded the Desert Chamber Orchestra in 2012 and previously led the Coachella Valley Symphony and Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony for 15 seasons.

He will soon be celebrating the release of his second album, From The Bottom Of My Harp. His first album was titled It’s About Time.

An album release party has been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 7, at Cafe Aroma, at 54750 N. Circle Drive in Idyllwild. The event, which will include a short video presentation, begins at 3 p.m., and the first five people to arrive and sign in will receive a free copy of Chalifour’s latest CD.

Anyone with information about this incident, or incidents related to Kellner or his activities is encouraged to call Investigator Porrazzo at (951) 791-3400. Callers can refer to incident file number D172580057 and can remain anonymous. Citizens may also submit a tip using the Sheriff’s CrimeTips online form.


Contact the writer:

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Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.