Geneva Anderson digs into art

Looted! Valuable artifact—a Gold Rush-era box—stolen Monday from the Oakland Museum—there’s a $12,000 reward

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A historic box made of California gold and said to be valued at more than $800,000 was stolen from the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) early Monday morning, the second break-in in two months, the museum reported Tuesday evening.   The museum is always closed to the public on Monday and Tuesday and both thefts occurred on Monday, and is it believed that the same thieves may be responsible for both break-ins.   The OMCA announced this morning it is offering a $12,000 reward for the box’s safe recovery. 

Museum spokeswoman Kelly Koski said the California Gold Rush era quartz and gold box with ornamentation depicting early California was taken from an alarm-fitted plexiglass display cabinet in the museum.  Museum Executive Director Lori Fogarty did not confirm reports that the box was worth up to $800,000, which SF Gate reporter Henry K Lee reported this morning he had been told by Anne Campbell Washington, chief of staff for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (here).  Fogarty did disclose that the 7 x 9 inch shoebox size box was an anniversary gift from a San Francisco pioneer to his wife from the 1800s and was lined with rare quartz and gold.  It weighs about three pounds. The museum has had it since the 1960’s.

At a press conference this (Wednesday) morning, held by the museum, the Oakland Police Department, and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, it was announced that OMCA is offering a $12,000 reward for the safe return of the box.  Further details of the theft were also released.  As with the incident in November, this was a strategic theft.  Once again, the museum’s security team and the Oakland Police Department responded quickly, but the thief got away.  The suspect was caught on surveillance video and Oakland police suspect an African-American man 5 foot 9 inches to 6 feet tall with a medium complexion, who was wearing dark clothes and a white mask.  They believe the man broke in through a garden door.  A police team is searching the Oakland estuary, which is close to the museum, in the event the object was dumped near the water.  There is also concern that object could be melted down for its gold.

Police and the museum are not yet releasing a photo of the items or surveillance video because it is part of the investigation.

The box was insured.  The City of Oakland is the owner and carrier of the collection.  The museum upgraded its security system following the November theft and further security enhancements are underway that will be in place in the coming days.

The last burglary occurred about 11:30 p.m. on Monday, November 12, 2012 when gold nuggets and other undisclosed artifacts, some more than 200 years old, were stolen.  Both the box stolen Monday and these objects were part of the same OMCA Gold Rush display. Video surveillance tapes were reviewed but no arrests have been made, nor have the items been recovered from the November theft.  In that robbery, someone broke a door to get inside the museum and then exited the building through a different door.  The alarms went off, the guards followed protocol and called 911 and police arrived within three minutes, said the museum’s executive director Lori Fogarty.  (as reported by Kristin Bender in the Oakland Tribune (here).

In an open letter to the public appearing on the OMCA website this morning Fogarty, wrote—“We are appealing to the public for assistance in recovering the artifacts stolen in November and in this latest incident.  Beyond their monetary value, these objects convey the story of California and our heritage and are held in the public trust to be cared for into perpetuity for the learning and enjoyment of Museum visitors. We hope that, thought this broad media effort and the attendant reward, we will be successful in gaining assistance in bringing these objects once again to the Museum and our community.”

Anyone with any information about the burglary is encouraged to immediately contact the Oakland Police Department’s Major Crimes Section at (510) 238-3951 or the TIP line at (510) 777-2805.   The reward is subject to certain terms and conditions required by the insurer, including that the reward claimant not have any involvement in the theft or any previous or post-theft complicity.

The story is now being covered in the major media.

January 9, 2013 Posted by | Art, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment