DEAR JOAN: Maybe you can tell us what might have stripped our apple tree of all its apples.

Before we left on a 21/2-week vacation our backyard apple tree was full of apples -- probably more than 200. When we returned there was not a single one left on the tree, none on the ground and no partially eaten apples anywhere in or near our yard or deck.

Our backyard is surrounded by a 6-foot tall chain link fence. There are two gates that are kept closed. One fence opens onto Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. The wildlife in our neighborhood and in the park includes deer, skunks, raccoons, fox, coyote, opossum, squirrels, dogs, cats, humans and birds, from hummingbirds to hawks.

Missing: A lot of apples from a backyard tree.
Missing: A lot of apples from a backyard tree. ( JOHN GREEN )

We discussed the possible culprits:

  • Squirrels. Usually they leave half eaten apples on the deck or on the ground and they are noted for cleaning up.

  • Deer. They might be able to squeeze through the gate, but unless they are really agile I don't think they could have climbed 12 feet up the tree to reach apples on the top branches.

  • Roof rats. We have never seen evidence that they might be in the yard, and like squirrels, they usually leave half-eaten apples behind.

  • Raccoons. They are around and use our deck as a highway to neighbor's yard to prey on the chickens, but it seems like they would leave some evidence, and chicken is tastier than an apple.

  • Birds. They often peck at apples on the tree or on the ground, but it seems unlikely that they would strip the tree.

  • People. Possible, but people are sloppy and if apple is not perfect they would just toss on the ground. Plus they would need a ladder to reach apples at the top.

  • Cats. Only if they could convince someone to do the picking for them.

  • Dogs. Dogs might eat apples on the ground and possibly climb low branches, but even a toy Chihuahua's weight would be too much for the higher branches.

    Any idea as to what or who might have taken all the apples and left no sign that there ever had been apples? Or is it an unsolved mystery, like Easter Island?

    Katy and Wayne

    El Sobrante

    DEAR KATY AND WAYNE: Your list of suspects reminded me of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express." Perhaps the solution, as it was in that book, is that all of the suspects took part in the apple theft, eventually cleaning out the tree before you got home.

    I don't quite think it happened that way, though. Even if all of those creatures came during the fortnight you were away, it is likely they would have left some evidence behind, even if it was just a bit of an apple core in the corner.

    Something very similar happened to me. I recently moved to a new house that has a very productive plum tree. I hadn't had much of a chance to sample them, but I was looking forward to it once I had moved in. Then they all disappeared. It didn't take 21/2 weeks, either. It took about 21/2 minutes.

    During a break from moving things into the wrong rooms, our highly paid movers climbed the tree and picked every single plum before I realized what they were doing.

    I suspect something like that is what happened to your apple tree, although odds are it wasn't done by my lousy movers.

    Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.