Art Treasures Recovered Three Years After Theft
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A Chinese crystal ball and a 2,000-year-old Egyptian statue stolen from a University of Pennsylvania museum three years ago are back, thanks to a museum volunteer who went antique shopping during her lunch break.
The 55-pound crystal ball, second largest known to exist, is said to have once belonged to a dowager empress of China. It has been appraised at $220,000.
The 20-inch bronze statue of the Egyptian god Osiris dates to before 30 B.C. It has been appraised at $20,000.
Both pieces were stolen from the university’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology during an overnight burglary Nov. 10, 1988. Both have been traced back to Lawrence Stametz of Philadelphia, detectives said.
No arrests had been made in the case as of Wednesday night.
The Osiris had been ripped from its base and the base for the crystal ball - a silver image of an ocean wave - was found near a bridge outside the museum, leading investigators to believe amateurs pulled off the theft.
The treasures seemed to be gone without a trace until Oct. 24, when Jesse Camby, a former curator for the museum, walked into Rich McFall’s South Street Garage Sale during her lunch break and saw the missing Osiris.
″I was surprised at first, then excited,″ she said. ″I tipped it forward a little, and once I felt how heavy it was, I was pretty sure of what it was.″
After questioning the shopkeepers, the FBI tracked down the 55-pound crystal ball Tuesday at the home of Kim Beckles of Trenton, N.J. She said it was a birthday present in September 1989 from Stametz, a former employer, police said.
Detectives said Stametz also sold the Osiris to a trash picker, who took it to the antique shop.
″We’re pretty excited. We’re jubilant,″ said museum spokeswoman Pam Kosty. ″Everybody wants to talk to Jesse about this. Without her, we wouldn’t have this piece today.″
After seeing the statue, Ms. Camby left the shop without saying anything to the staff and hurried back to the museum, a few blocks away. She looked up registrar Rebecca Buck.
They raced back, and Bruce Summerfield, one of store owners, turned the statue over to the museum staffers after they showed him photographs of the stolen object.
″It was incredibly good luck,″ Ms. Camby said. ″The hardest part was keeping quiet about it″ while the FBI investigated.
Summerfield said he bought the statue about 10 days earlier for $30 from a trash picker identified only as ″Al,″ who said he got it from a man moving out of a nearby house.
Museum Director Robert H. Dyson Jr. gave Ms. Camby the $10,000 reward that had been offered for the return of the crystal ball, and she donated it to her research project, piecing together a stele - a carved stone pillar - from Mesopotamia.
Ms. Beckles said she worked for Stametz years ago, cleaning his house. He told her he had found the crystal ball and gave it to her as a birthday gift because he knew she collected crystals.
On Tuesday, he called and asked if she still had it.
″He said, ‘I talked to this guy, and he thinks it’s worth a lot of money.’ I thought he meant maybe a couple of thousand dollars.
″Then he said, ‘Could we come over and take a look at it?’ and I said, ‘Sure, I’m going to be around the next few days,’ and he said, ’We’re coming over now.‴
Stametz showed up about an hour later with FBI agents, who told her the ball was stolen, she said.
″I had no idea of the value. It was a big shock,″ she said.
Ms. Beckles said she’d like to see the ball in the museum, and the museum hopes to put the crystal ball back on display as soon as possible.
″But we want to make sure we have it in a secure case,″ Ms. Kosty said.