Gold Rush nuggets stolen from California courthouse

Siskiyou County Courthouse gold display in better daysTwo masked men broke into the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka, California and stole the largest nuggets from a display case replete with gold nuggets, leaf, and dust from the area’s rich mining history. They got in through an unlocked window in the back of the courthouse, then broke a hand-sized hole through the thick bulletproof glass covering the display and helped themselves to the choicest pieces they could reach. Court employees discovered the theft when they arrived in the morning.

Surveillance footage timestamps the theft at 1:00 AM on Wednesday. For reasons still unclear, a silent alarm connected to the display never sounded. Authorities are investigating whether the alarm was intentionally disabled in some way or whether it simply malfunctioned. An attempted theft in 1979 was deterred by the silent alarm; the thief stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of nugget, but was caught by police just a few blocks away. After that theft, the glass was replaced with even thicker glass and a new alarm installed.

The County Treasurer/Tax Collector Wayne Hammar is the official in charge of the gold. He and his team will inventory the remaining gold to sort out exactly what is left. According to the Sheriff’s office, an estimated third to a half of the gold was stolen, including a famously huge nugget known as the “slipper” or “shoe” because of its shoe-like shape.

Siskiyou County Courthouse gold display postcard, 1947The Siskiyou County Courthouse gold was donated to the county over the years since 1851 by miners who lived and worked there. It is (was?) the largest gold display in the continental United States and was exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco’s Treasure Island. The locals, many of whom have been involved in the mining industry for generations, are deeply connected to these artifacts so dazzlingly symbolic of their history.

That connection is so profound that when faced with a dismal economy the county refused to cash in on their gigantic hoard. They had 20% unemployment in 2010; the county budget was getting slashed left and right. Still, even under that kind of pressure they refused to sell their gold display, worth almost $1,300,000 in gold weight alone and estimated to be worth $3,000,000 because of its historical significance and because the gold is in its natural form rather than melted down into generic ingots.

There’s a very-sad-in-hindsight video of the gold display at the courthouse from 2007 when the Huell Howser PBS show “California’s Gold” filmed a segment there:

Here’s the surveillance video from Wednesday night:

If you have any information about the theft, please contact the Sheriff’s office at 530-841-2900.

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