On August 11, 2019, roughly 50 households in the Hampshire community of Henrico County, Virginia, awoke to a peculiar sight. As they left for work or went to let their dogs out, they noticed an unsolicited delivery had been left by their door: a vintage tube television, carefully placed with the screen facing toward their house.
Puzzled, some of the homeowners checked their doorbell cameras. In the middle of the night, two people dressed in work shirts and wearing masks shaped like TVs had dropped off the sets, waving as they departed. It was like something out of a Black Mirror episode.
Some residents were amused. Others were frightened. One college-aged resident pleaded with his mother to leave the house, fearing it was some kind of sinister message.
Even more curious: This wasn't the first time this had happened.
One year earlier, in August 2018, more than 20 homes in another Henrico County neighborhood had been gifted a tube television overnight. The sets were old—one was a Toshiba with a manufacturing date of 1986—and all were unexpected. No perpetrators were captured on camera, and no one had any inkling of what it meant.
While the mystery TV deliveries were disturbing, they weren’t technically a crime. At least, not at first. The closest offense police lieutenant Matt Pecka could consider would be illegal dumping, though a legal analyst later speculated that the offenders could be charged with a felony for wearing a mask in public. (The law, which was originally written to deter the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, had exceptions for events like Halloween, theatrical performances, and “bona fide medical reasons” like the coronavirus pandemic.)
Still, some residents weren’t taking any chances. As people congregated on a local Facebook group after the 2018 incident, some warned not to put the televisions inside the house. Others pondered the meaning of what appeared to be a prank.
Then, in August 2019, it happened a second time. Pecka began receiving phone calls from agitated residents who reported the same set of circumstances—only this time, doorbell cameras were able to record footage of the two people dropping off the sets. One in a blue work shirt carried the set onto a porch; the other, in a white shirt, assisted. At least one wore black gloves and brown hiking boots; the TV-shaped helmets eliminated any chance of facial identification.
The drop-offs certainly seemed performative. The mischief-makers would stop, turn, and wave while cocking their head for the cameras.
This time, officials commandeered a waste truck to round up the sets and take them to the town dump. But again, police didn’t have any actionable crime to investigate. There were just theories, chief among them being that some college kids had either done it as a prank or as some kind of dare or fraternity activity.
“They had way too much time on their hands if they had all these TVs and spread them all over the neighborhood,” resident Michael Kroll told WTVR. “I think it’s funny in some ways ... Now if my whole front yard was covered with TVs, I’d kind of get upset.”
Once more, there appeared to be no ill intent beyond a stunt. But as the weeks wore on, police began to home in on a suspect.
News affiliate WRIC reported in September 2019 that police had gotten a tip about a 19-year-old in the area who had been spotted on social media wearing a mask similar to the one captured on the doorbell cameras. The teen was reportedly in the vicinity of a commercial building in which police discovered 30 older televisions as well as the kind of outfit seen in the surveillance footage. What’s more, the teen’s sister admitted to police that she had dropped off some televisions near an area high school. A search warrant was executed for his residence and detailed three possible charges, including trespassing, dumping, and the most serious offense: the felony of wearing a mask in public.
Ultimately, no news of formal charges being filed was ever reported. It’s possible the prank may have been too underwhelming for Henrico County’s commonwealth’s attorney to prosecute. (The attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)
Nor was any subsequent information of the suspect—or suspects—ever released. If they had a run-in with authorities, then perhaps it was enough to discourage them: The “TV fairy” has yet to reappear in Virginia.