Man Admits to 1971 Theft of Revolutionary War-Era Rifle

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Thomas Gavin, 78, pleaded blameworthy connected Tuesday, acknowledging that helium stole the firearm from the Valley Forge visitant halfway and sold it and astatine slightest a twelve different antique weapons to a dealer.

The Johann Christian Oerter rifle. It has an elaborate brass ligament  inlay, and Oerter’s name, the twelvemonth  and the determination  of its instauration  are engraved connected  apical  of the robust  firearm  barrel.
Credit...Rachel Wisniewski for The New York Times

July 20, 2021Updated 6:49 p.m. ET

In October 1971, a firearm made during the Revolutionary War was stolen from a show lawsuit astatine the visitant halfway astatine Valley Forge State Park successful Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit was thought to beryllium theft-proof, but idiosyncratic utilized a crowbar to pry it unfastened successful wide daylight, soon aft the museum, astir 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, opened that morning, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, which wrote astir the theft astatine the time.

Some clip later, a lad scout connected a circuit with his unit noticed that the rifle, a five-foot-long limb made by a maestro gunsmith, Johann Christian Oerter, was missing.

Forty-seven years later, successful July 2018, the antheral who stole the rifle, Thomas Gavin, sold it, on with a trunk filled with much than 20 antique pistols and a Native American concho metallic belt, to Kelly Kinzle, a Pennsylvania antiques dealer, who paid him $27,150, according to national tribunal documents.

On Tuesday, Mr. Gavin, 78, pleaded blameworthy to 1 number of disposing of an entity of taste practice stolen from a museum, a complaint that carries a maximum punishment of 10 years successful prison. He was ordered to beryllium held with bail acceptable astatine $100,000 earlier helium is sentenced connected Nov. 15.

His lawyer did not instantly respond to a connection for comment.

In February 2020, F.B.I. agents and detectives from the Upper Merion Township Police Department questioned Mr. Gavin, who admitted that helium stole the Oerter firearm arsenic good arsenic antique guns from different museums crossed Pennsylvania, according to a plea agreement.

Mr. Gavin admitted that helium stole revolvers and pistols from respective institutions, including the American Swedish Historical Museum, the Valley Forge Historical Society and the Pennsylvania Farm Museum, the plea statement said. The weapons, 1 of which had a bayonet, were made successful the 18th and 19th centuries, the papers said.

He besides confessed to stealing the metallic loop and respective firearms made successful the 1850s from the Hershey Museum successful Hershey, Pa., according to tribunal documents.

The firearm that was taken from the Valley Forge visitant halfway was made successful 1775 by Oerter, a gunsmith astatine the Moravian colony of Christian’s Spring, adjacent Nazareth, Pa.

David Condon, an adept successful antique firearms who examined the rifle, said its marketplace worth was $175,000, according to tribunal documents.

A lawyer for Mr. Kinzle, the antiques dealer, told The New York Times successful 2019 that his lawsuit discovered that helium had bought a stolen limb aft helium work astir the theft of the Oerter firearm successful a 1980 publication by George Shumway, an adept connected antique agelong rifles who died successful 2011.


Credit...Rachel Wisniewski for The New York Times

The firearm was among a fig of antique firearms that were stolen from the Valley Forge Historical Society and the Valley Forge State Park depository successful the precocious 1960s and 1970s, according to national prosecutors. Valley Forge was established arsenic a nationalist parkland successful 1976.

Prosecutors said that Mr. Gavin should beryllium ordered to wage nary much than $20,200 successful restitution, according to the plea agreement. They did not stipulate what condemnation they would urge to the judge.

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