Foul play suspected in bird's disappearance

King George, the talking magpie, is missing. He disappeared last week from his west Modesto home.

Kathy Bankson rescued the bird when it was just a hatchling blown out of a nest on Bankson's ranch. Bankson suspects something foul may be afoot.

"I let him out (last Wednesday)," said Bankson. "I saw him at 8:30 and the neighbor across the street saw him last at 9 a.m. I let him out like I do every day, he was hanging around like he does every morning, but disappeared."

George has a vocabulary of several phrases and seems to use them at appropriate times. They included "Whatcha doing?" "Don't shoot me!" and "Bye-bye." He also barks like a dog and laughs. George also has a damaged right leg.

Bankson reported seeing sev- eral new people in the area doing chores on nearby ranches and roads just before George disap- peared.

"You saw how George liked cars and seeing who was in them. I think someone took him," she said. "We looked and looked for him to no avail. I got up early to see if maybe he'd be with the other magpies as they came around this morning, but sadly no."

She said birds like to roost in the same spot every night, so she believes it's unlikely George would stay away on his own.

Through tears, she added: "Dang it, I'm so attached to the little guy. ... I told my husband that I wouldn't panic for a couple of days to see if he is just lost ... but something tells me I may never get to see him again."

Bankson said she isn't the only one who misses George. "The kids across the street and their parents are heartbroken, too. He was loved by everyone here."

Neighboring rancher Bart Honeycutt told Bankson that George had made this the most enjoyable summer in memory.

"We had just finished gathering the walnuts and I heard the magpies chattering in the trees," Honeycutt told Bankson before George went missing. "Then I heard this gibberish and I yelled out, 'Is that you George?' The reply came right back, 'Don't shoot me.' "

George's fame and loss has spread far and wide. Bankson's relatives in Napa and Fresno are saying prayers for the bird. So is former Sen. Bob Dole, a family friend, who knew Bankson's late son, Bo. "Mr. Dole ... said he hoped George would find his way home again," said Bankson.

Bankson's father, John Boere Jr. owns a ranch in Southern California and told her he would post a $1,000 reward.

Bankson worries whether the two-legged human varmint who might have taken George knows how to care for him.

"He lived free," she said. "I worry they'll feed him bird seed and kill him. He only eats bugs."

Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at rhoskins@modbee.com or 578-2311.

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