News

Gold pocket watches recovered in Royal B.C. Museum heist

A collection of gold pocket watches stolen from a display at the Royal B.C. Museum last Friday. The artifacts were recovered locally by Victoria police, while two suspects in the theft were arrested in Port Alberni on Wednesday. - Daniel Palmer/News staff
A collection of gold pocket watches stolen from a display at the Royal B.C. Museum last Friday. The artifacts were recovered locally by Victoria police, while two suspects in the theft were arrested in Port Alberni on Wednesday.
— image credit: Daniel Palmer/News staff

A collection of gold pocket watches, stolen last Friday from the Royal B.C. Museum, were recovered Wednesday by the Victoria Police Department.

The suspects, a 44-year-old Port Alberni man (formerly of Colwood) and a 29-year-old Port Alberni woman, were both arrested by Port Alberni RCMP earlier this week at the request of VicPD.

VicPD used a fingerprint left at the scene to trace the crime back to the Colwood man, while the eight pocket watches "had gone through a number of different hands" before officers tracked them down locally, said Sgt. Colin Brown of VicPD's Crime Reduction Unit.

"In this particular case, it's a crime of opportunity," Brown said at a press conference Thursday. "But there was definitely some thought that went into it. It's not like the museum didn't have good security in place, they did, but you can tell, even though (the suspects) are not the most sophisticated people, they've certainly been involved in thefts in the past."

Brown said the pocket watches were likely traded for drugs or cash before the couple left Victoria for Port Alberni, and said police worked quickly to recover them through local sources.

RBCM CEO Jack Lohman called the incident a "very rare occurrence," and praised VicPD for tracking down the valuable artifacts so quickly.

"I've worked with museums all around the world … where there hasn't been this great speed of work (by police)," Lohman said.

Bill Chimko, RBCM's head of security, said the watches were stolen from a secured glass case in the Old Town exhibit on the museum's third floor during operating hours, but refused to go into further detail. He said security measures are being adjusted as a result of the theft.

The RBCM maintains a collection of 106 pocket watches amongst its seven-million objects, Lohman said. He couldn't speculate on the value of the items.

Brian Gerald Holt and Stacy Croft are each facing a charge of theft over $5,000.

The recovered items are listed as follows:

  1. Gold pocket watch. RBCM 2002.51.1: "Repeater" model, very unusual among watches.  It chimed the quarter hour for HBC Captain James Gaudin, c. 1870.  Jeweled.  Quarter hour repeater sounds by pushing down - away from stem - on small tab on right hand side of watch). Owned by Captain James Gaudin, Captain of HBC sailing barque Lady Lampson, which travelled between London and Victoria in the 1870's. Rear of case frame inscribed “Captain James Gaudin/St Martins/Jersey”
  2. Railroad watch in a Hunter case., c. 1890. RBCM 977.29.12a, 12b
  3. Waltham watch, Bartlett movement, 1903. RBCM 965.2224.1
  4. Waltham watch belonging to Bill Miner, BC’s last train robber.
  5. RBCM 963.27.1: Pocket watch belonging to Bill Miner. Movement made 1901, prior to Bill Miner's train robberies of 1904. May have been left behind when he escaped from BC Pen, in New Westminster, in 1907.
  6. Pocket watch with gold vest chain.  Waltham, 1891. RBCM 976.56.1
  7. Cashier’s pocket watch.  American Watch, 1911. RBCM 971.38.1a & 1b
  8. Gold pocket watch.  Movado, Switzerland, 1905-1910. RBCM 999.78.13
  9. Gold watch with diamonds.  Waltham, 1900. RBCM 999.78.17: Small gold pocket watch owned by John Williams Spencer, of the David Spencer department store chain. The front cover is engraved with the initials WS.
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