Man admits to stealing revolutionary wartime rifle in 1971
In October 1971, a rifle made during the Revolutionary War was stolen from a display case at the Visitor Center in Valley Forge State Park in Pennsylvania.
The case was thought to be theft-proof, but someone used a crowbar to pry it open in broad daylight shortly after the museum opened, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia that morning, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, who wrote about the theft at the time.
Some time later, a scout on tour with his troop noticed that the rifle, a five-foot-long weapon made by a master gunsmith, Johann Christian Oerter, was missing.
Forty-seven years later, in July 2018, the man who stole the rifle, Thomas Gavin, sold it, along with a trunk full of over 20 antique pistols and a Native American concho silver belt, to Kelly Kinzle, an antique dealer from Pennsylvania. , which paid him $ 27,150, according to Federal Court documents.
On Tuesday, Mr Gavin, 78, pleaded guilty to one count of disposing of a stolen cultural heritage object from a museum, a charge carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. He was sentenced to bail set at $ 100,000 before being sentenced on November 15.
His lawyer did not immediately respond to a message for comment.
In February 2020, FBI agents and detectives from the Upper Merion Township Police Department interviewed Mr. Gavin, who admitted to stealing the Oerter rifle as well as antique weapons from other museums in Pennsylvania, according to one. plea agreement.
Mr Gavin admitted to stealing revolvers and pistols from several institutions, including the American Swedish Historical Museum, the Valley Forge Historical Society and the Pennsylvania Farm Museum, according to the plea deal. The weapons, one of which had a bayonet, were made in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to the document.
He also confessed to stealing the silver belt and several firearms made in the 1850s from the Hershey Museum in Hershey, Pa., According to court documents.
The rifle that was taken from the Valley Forge Visitor Center was made in 1775 by Oerter, a gunsmith from the Moravian settlement of Christian’s Spring, near Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
David Condon, an antique firearms expert who examined the rifle, said its market value was $ 175,000, according to court documents.
An attorney for Mr. Kinzle, the antiquarian, told the New York Times in 2019 that his client discovered he had purchased a stolen gun after reading about the theft of the Oerter rifle in a 1980 book by George Shumway, an expert in ancient long guns who died in 2011.
The rifle was one of a number of antique firearms that were stolen from the Valley Forge Historical Society and the Valley Forge State Park Museum in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, according to federal prosecutors. Valley Forge was established as a national park in 1976.
Prosecutors said Mr. Gavin should be ordered not to pay more than $ 20,200 in restitution, according to the plea agreement. They did not specify the sentence they would recommend to the judge.