Jewel Heist, Observatory Ugliness

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - July 26, 2006
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These Indian jewels were returned after being stolen by a homeless man as a gift for his mother in North Carolina
These Indian jewels were returned after being
stolen by a homeless man as a gift for his
mother in North Carolina

One of the best local stories you probably never heard about is the theft of about half-a-million dollars’ worth of Indian jewels right under the noses of the guards and the eyes of the security cameras at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

The take included two emeralds believed to have been owned by the builder of the Taj Mahal.

It’s the first art theft in the history of the Academy.

Man walks in, pries off the protective encasements, walks off with the jewels during daylight visiting hours.

Guards and surveillance-camera people don’t see a thing!


Police are stymied. But a private detective working for the museum tracks down the thief, contacts the thief’s mother, and gets all the jewels returned by FedEx.

And if you weren’t watching KITV-4 News at 6, you likely are hearing the story for the first time here in MidWeek. Yes, there was a very small, inside blurb in the Star-Bulletin and Advertiser, mainly quoting KITV on the theft, but no follow-up by the dailies and never a word on the amazing story of how everything was recovered intact or how they could so easily be stolen in the first place.

The robbery was on May 14. The museum notified police but made no public announcement. It was an embarrassing failure of security for such an institution. KITV got wind of it and broadcast the theft as its lead story on July 1. On July 2, the Star-Bulletin had Academy director Stephen Little confirming the theft, but largely quoting KITV News. On July 3, the Advertiser had its first mention on an inside page - its editor admitting to following up on what its staff had read in the Bulletin, not what was two days-old on KITV but hadn’t twanged a single nerve at 605 Kapiolani Blvd.

“Police are investigating the theft of items from the Watumull Gallery at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, a family member confirmed,” said the Advertiser‘s late entry.

“KITV reported on Saturday night that $500,000 worth of jewelry was taken from the Watumull Gallery in May. The report was based on information from unnamed sources.

“Police criminal investigations supervising personnel were unable to confirm the report yesterday and the Honolulu Academy of Arts referred inquiries to its director, Stephen Little, who did not return calls seeking comment.”

Then - newspaper silence. Advertiser editor Mark Platte told blogger Ian Lind that “the reporter left messages for the academy director, who did not call back.

He left a message with museum staff. They declined comment. He spoke with a Watumull (jewel donor) family member. She said TV had reported it all and did not wish to go further other than to confirm it happened.”

Pretty lame excuse by Platte on July 12, because on July 14 KITV started its newscast with the story that private detective Steve Goodenow of the Hawaii Investigative Group had tracked down the homeless thief by posing as a Waikiki homeless man himself, had contacted the thief’s mother in Hillsborough, N.C., and persuaded her to FedEx the jewels back here. Her son had given them to her as a gift, perhaps for Mother’s Day.

KITV’s Denby Fawcett (my wife) even spoke with the thief at his mother’s house on the telephone and had his voice on TV.

Still not one iota of shoe-leather work on this amazing story by either of the dailies with their large staff resources.

The jewels are back on display.


The Academy’s July newsletter says the museum is hiring new full- and part-time guards.

And it was obvious that one private eye did what the best detectives of the Honolulu Police Department could not do - track down the thief seen on the security camera videotape.

Keep in mind that this wasn’t a well-thought-out professional heist. Just a guy who walked in, pried open the encasements and walked out with $500,000 worth of jewels.

Some story, huh?

Too bad you didn’t read about it until now.

 

three star
The telescopes atop Mauna Kea
The telescopes atop Mauna Kea

A UH Astronomy Institute division chief suggests that the “hunk of ugliness” I recently described seeing on Mauna Kea at sunset from South Kohala might be the Subaru telescope (pictured) rather than NASA’s IRTF scope. NASA’s has a very unattractive support structure when viewed at low level but Subaru pokes up higher and is uglier.

I was impressed by the videography of the recent PBS-Hawaii story on the mountain telescopes dispute. It was, however, one of those public broadcasting projects to give voice to native people and their spirituality claims rather than a hard-nosed look at how the system works - which it should have been.

We got a huge dose of pule and hearing-room sound bites of protest, but no understanding of how to deal with differences between science and spiritual things.

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