The beautiful and historic Gold Rush-era jewelry box stolen from the Oakland Museum of California in January has been recovered and appears to be undamaged. At a news conference on Tuesday, police announced that the suspect in the thefts, Andre Taray Franklin, a career criminal with 10 previous felony convictions including three for burglary and petty theft, was arrested and booked into Santa Rita Jail Sunday.
Based on security footage taken during the burglaries, the police had been looking for him in connection with both thefts at the museum. When they arrested him, police found pictures of the box and of a mid-20th century pistol on his cell phone. They were able to trace the jewelry box from that picture, locating it at a business they declined to name. The six-barrel pistol in the picture is one of the objects stolen from the museum in November. It has not been recovered as of yet, nor have the stolen gold nuggets.
Police Chief Howard Jordan and Lt. Oliver Cunningham praised Sgt. Mike Igualdo for his dedication in pinpointing the suspect and finding the box.
Police Officer Michael Igualdo, the lead investigator, said officers were ecstatic to find the gold box, although he wouldn’t say where it had turned up. “We thought we were in the movie ‘National Treasure,’ ” Igualdo said.
“What clicked in me was the history of California, the Gold Rush era, our American history, our heritage,” Igualdo said.
The Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Franklin with violating parole on a previous conviction for possessing stolen property and receiving stolen goods valued at more than $200,000 — the box (valued at $805,000) and the pistol. More charges, namely multiple counts of burglary, are likely to follow. In the meantime he is being held without bail.
Museum officials are thrilled to have the jewelry box back, of course. At the press conference, Director Lori Fogarty thanked the Oakland Police Department “for their expert assistance with recovering OMCA’s historic jewelry box” and said they plan to have to the box back on view as soon as possible. They need to examine it carefully to tend to any conservation needs, but as soon as any condition issues are resolved, the jewelry box will be the star of the Gallery of California History again. There is no question of the box being secured out of public view, despite its unfortunate history of theft. Fogarty again: “It is our mission and our responsibility to share California’s history with the public. If we were just a treasure trove, a mausoleum for objects, we wouldn’t be serving our mission.”
Instead of hiding their light under a bushel, the museum has significantly beefed up its security protocols. They’ve added security guards, additional cameras, alarm systems and lighting. Museum officials are confident that the 1.8 million-object collection will be safe.
I’m just glad it’s still whole instead of having been melted down. I hope Franklin tells authorities where all the other artifacts he stole ended up, although odds are they’re several steps removed from the first pawn shop or fence he sold them to.