Memorabilia heists in NY, NJ mirror Fargo Maris theft
FARGO-If a trophy was handed out for stealth, smarts and speed when it comes to swiping sports memorabilia, authorities believe there's one man out there who could probably steal that trophy and get away with it.No name has been mentioned so far,...
FARGO-If a trophy was handed out for stealth, smarts and speed when it comes to swiping sports memorabilia, authorities believe there's one man out there who could probably steal that trophy and get away with it.
No name has been mentioned so far, but it's clear law enforcement officials suspect a single perpetrator may be responsible for a growing string of high-profile heists in the sports memorabilia world, including the recent theft of baseball treasures from the Roger Maris museum in West Acres mall here.
A search warrant filed recently in Cass County District Court indicates local investigators believe the Maris case could be linked to similar thefts in states such as New York and New Jersey.
While investigators here and elsewhere did not return calls seeking comment, a writer for the New York Times, Joe Drape, wrote a story in 2013 that outlines the theft of trophies and other memorabilia valued at nearly $1 million from three museums and a country club in New York and New Jersey.
Drape's story says authorities believe all of those cases, which took place during an 18-month period, are the work of the same male suspect.
The thief's method of operation includes dressing in disguise, smashing glass display cases and snatching very specific items before making his getaway, often taking just minutes to accomplish his task.
The local search warrant seeks cellphone tower data that was recorded around the time the Roger Maris museum was burgled on July 26.
Search warrant information indicates the FBI and police officials in the eastern United States are curious to know whether the Fargo case is linked to the earlier crimes, because the Fargo thief was dressed in what appeared to be a security guard costume and took just 60 seconds to commit his crime.
That included the time it took to smash through an exterior mall door, run to a glass display, smash a window of that display and grab two items before leaving the mall.
He got away with a 1961 S. Rae Hickok Belt, which was given to Maris, a Fargo native, after he broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record.
The thief also took Maris' 1960 American League Most Valuable Player award, a silver plate.
The estimated value of the items exceeds $100,000, according to court records.
All of which mirrors crimes outlined in the New York Times article, which stated that a thief struck the U.S. Golf Association Museum in Bernards Township, N.J., in early 2012, taking the U.S. Amateur trophy and a replica of golf legend Ben Hogan's Hickok Belt, which was made of alligator skin and had a solid gold buckle and a four-carat diamond.
Hogan received the belt in 1953 for being the nation's top pro athlete.
Just a week earlier, the Times story said, the same thief is believed to have hit the Somerset Hills Country Club-located about 15 minutes away from the golf association museum-and made off with a number of trophies.
Also around that time, a thief hit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., stealing five trophies valued at about $500,000.
Three of the trophies were made of significant amounts of gold, while two were made of silver.
John Catone, an official with the Saratoga Springs Police Department, was quoted in the Times article as stating the thief had planned well.
"He obviously knew the place and knew what he was coming to get. He was out in less than three minutes," Catone said.
The Times story also stated that in December 2012 someone broke into the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., and snatched the Memphis Gold Challenge Cup, the gold Weaver Loving Cup, a Tiffany basket-shaped bowl, and 10 other trophies dating from 1895 to 1946.
A museum spokeswoman was quoted as saying a common denominator of all of the thefts was that the sites were perceived as easy targets.
The Times article said the locations were in sleepy neighborhoods with security limited to alarms and some surveillance cameras, and all were hit quickly at night.
Whether the thief planned to sell the stolen items or melt them down for the value of their precious metals isn't known, the New York Times story said, though it quoted Robert Wittman, founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, as stating he had never seen a significant secondary market for sports trophies, stolen or otherwise.
In the wake of the theft from the Roger Maris Museum, the West Acres mall said it was stationing a dedicated security guard at the museum and instituting additional security measures it declined to provide details about.
Chris Heaton, the mall's property manager, confirmed Wednesday that the security guard remains in place at the museum. He said other security upgrades are in the works, though he declined to specify the upgrades.
Heaton said Fargo police informed him some time ago about the potential tie between the local case and other cases around the country. He is optimistic the investigative thread "will hopefully lead somewhere."