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Organist Says He Burglarized Up to 500 Churches

January 7, 1992

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) _ An unemployed church organist has confessed to stealing religious artifacts from as many as 500 churches and synagogues in the Northeast, investigators said.

Oather James Blocker, 45, used his knowledge of church operations to break in after hours and steal such items as gold-lined chalices and a Torah pointer, said Detective Bernard Havern of the Nassau County Police Department.

Blocker was arrested Friday and jailed without bail on charges he burglarized two churches last year in Woodbury, on Long Island, stealing more than $30,000 in artifacts.

Investigators said he also claimed to have committed thefts over the last decade in well-to-do communities in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Those cases are under investigation.

Blocker sold artifacts for $2,000 to $3,000, considerably less than their value, to someone who would melt them down and resell them, Havern said.

Police could not estimate the total value of the items stolen, but the detective said, ″He said he was doing about $30,000 a year.″

Havern, who has been investigating 40 church burglaries in Nassau County since 1988, said up to 40 church officials a day in four states have called wanting to know whether any of the property recovered belongs to them.

So far none of about six items recovered have matched, he said.

Blocker, a native of Roscoe, Texas, is a Roman Catholic convert who moved to New York City in 1982 and worked as a church organist in New York and New Jersey. He committed break-ins after midnight, always on a Monday, Havern said.

A drifter he befriended stole a chalice and other artifacts from his apartment, and the drifter’s arrest led investigators to Blocker, police said.

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