Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More info on stolen gold bar

Homer has stepped up once again and sent us some more information about the gold bar stolen from the Mel Fisher museum in Key West, FL.

From the internet.

Key West, Florida (CNN) -- For more than 20 years, the bulletproof museum case housed a small piece of yesteryear: A gold bar recovered from a sunken Spanish galleon. Today, its case is broken, littered with black fingerprint dust. The treasure is gone. Stolen. The two thieves were caught in the act by the museum's security cameras.

"This is a special piece," said Melissa Kendrick, the executive director of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida.

"All the pieces have an incredible historic value, but this is the piece that was shared with the public in a whole totally different way," she said.

It was different because you could touch it. By reaching into the specially designed display case, more than 6 million people have touched the 74.85 ounce bar, valued at more than $550,000.

"They're touching something that belonged to someone in 1622," said Carol Shaughnessy, the author of "Diving into Glory."

"Ordinarily people don't get to touch something like that. You can't touch an Egyptian mummy. This is a hands on connection to history," she said.

But now, what does a thief do with a priceless, high-profile artifact? Is there an underground market that will pay $550,000 for this almost 400-year-old piece of solid gold? One expert says no.

"That's why these crimes don't make a whole lot of money for the criminals," said Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent who once headed the FBI's Art Crime Team.

"It doesn't make sense to do it," he said.

Wandering through the museum, the thieves can be seen in security video trying to open museum doors. The video is incredibly clear. First, they appeared to be targeting a display case of gold chains. Then, after a security guard left this part of the museum, a man can be seen reaching into the case housing the gold bar and placing the little piece of history into his pocket before exiting the museum.

"We're getting information and following leads," said Key West Police Chief Donie Lee.

"Unfortunately we haven't got the best lead, which is, I know that person and we go out, and it's a positive ID, and we're able to go out and pick those guys up," he said.

What makes the crime so shocking, police said, is that the thieves were able to snap the glass at its edges. It's not just any glass, but three-eighths inch thick bulletproof Lexan glass.

"By designating this as a handling object, it brought certain risks to the bar," said Kendrick.

"But after your first five, and your next 10, and when you get to 25 years, you start to get to the point when you think that it's never going to happen," she said.

The solid gold bar was recovered from the wreck of the Santa Margarita in 1980 by treasure hunter and salvor Mel Fisher. Fisher and his team had been searching for the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, and instead found her sister ship, the Santa Margarita. Both ships had gone down in a hurricane off Key West shortly after leaving Havana, Cuba, in 1622.

The ships were headed home to Spain with a cargo of gold, silver and coins from the new world.

The Atocha would be found by the team several years later, in 1985. The stolen bar is one of dozens of gold and silver bars retrieved from the bottom of the sea.

Experts say about 90 percent of stolen art and artifacts is eventually recovered, but it often take years to find. The FBI has recovered more than 2,600 items of cultural property valued at more than $142 million. The items range from Colombian artifacts to Rembrandt paintings.

Former FBI Agent Wittman is the author of "Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures."

Wittman said the market is incredibly small for these high-profile objects. He said thieves often steal the items and then try to figure how to sell them.

"We recovered paintings and artifacts that were missing for many years. Ten, 15, sometimes 20 years, because the thieves couldn't get rid of them," he said.

"They kept them in their closets. They were white elephants. They made no money out of the deals. They were stuck," he said.

In 1990, thieves entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, Massachusetts, and stole 13 works of art, including three Rembrandts painted in the 1600s. None has been recovered. Federal agents are now using DNA to try to find the perpetrators.

Wittman said no legitimate collector would take the risks associated with buying stolen goods.

"They don't buy stolen property, because ... they can't show it, they can't enjoy it ... It makes them into criminals, and the last thing they want to do is spend a lot of money for a painting or for an artifact, whether its gold or whatever, and have it seized by the police and go to jail," he said.

Key West authorities said they believe the thieves were not locals and that they are probably long gone. The museum's insurance company is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the return of the bar.

Police remain hopeful that they will solve the crime, but just hope they can recover this golden piece of history.

"This is going to end up in somebody's house probably, used as a paperweight," said Lee, who is leading the investigation.

"Other than melting it down, which is the worst-case scenario for everyone. We're just hoping that they will come to their senses somehow and return this back to the museum."

For my two cents, (you were asking weren't you?)  if you have never been to the museum in Key West this should be something you put on your bucket list. As treasure hunters you will probably never see the kinds of things that are on display in this museum any where else, unless of course you are lucky enough to work a Spanish map to it's end. Even if you can no longer handle a gold bar from the 1600's the museum is still worth the trip.

Key West makes a nice little long weekend get away with several things to do besides going to the museum. I will have to say that the museum and sunset on the pier are the two best the place has to offer. If you get there after a big storm you could even have a chance of finding some gold or silver on the beaches with a metal detector.


Anonymous said...

I have been to the fisher museum in fort pierce and must say it is a interesting experience for sure I image the key west one is even more so. if you never hard gold fever you will when you leave
with that said it is a shame but that bar has probably already been melted and reintroduced to the market. It is sad cause it was neat seeing gold that was cast that long ago!

Tulsa gold buyers said...

It is sad to note that these gold bars that have significant roles in history are stolen from a well-guarded facility. Tighter security measures should observed so that similar incidents can be avoided. Hopefully, those responsible can be apprehended soon so that justice can be served unto them.