The news is splashed all over the Internet this morning. Stolen 1696 Stradivarius worth $1.8 million, recovered by UK police in central England. The crime, three years earlier: Euston Station, London. Violinist Min-Jin Kym had stopped at a sandwich shop while inside the railway station. While in there, she was momentarily distracted by two teens. A moment later she looked down to find her violin case gone from its spot. Yet another successful railway station scam. Or not. Because a Stradivarius theft tends to be big news. There are roughly 512 Stradivarius violins still in existence, every one of them pedigreed and accounted for, and when one gets stolen, it’s big, international news, certainly in the classical music world. This theft raised so much attention that an appeal was launched on BBC’s Crimewatch program. Bolstered by security camera footage at the sandwich shop, an arrest was made: 32-year-old John Maughan, working with two teenaged accomplices. In 2011, the three were convicted, Maughan sent off to serve a four-year prison term, the teens sent to a detention facility. No surfacing, however, of the actual violin, until yesterday. The Strad’s owner, violinist Min-Jin Kym, is, as you’d expect, deeply relieved, thrilled, tearfully happy.
Very satisfying story. I love hearing these. But at the same time, reading things like this always plants these nagging little story-thoughts in my head.
Like, if you had a million-plus dollar instrument, why would you ever have your hand off it? In a crowded train station area, no less? She’d gone to a public sandwich shop. We can only assume she was seated, the violin by her side. Fine, she needed her hands for her sandwich. My violin and bow are worth $2000, pennies in comparison, but if I’m seated in public, my hands occupied, then my ankles are clamped on either side of that case, one foot looped into the strap for extra security. Someone tugs at it, you feel it, right? But, like hearing about an accident involving a child, supervised by a mother who “looked away for just one second,” I do have sympathy for the victim. You can be diligent 99.9 percent of the time, and when that unfortunate .1% meets the scrutiny of a talented thief, well, there it is. Heartbreaking. Lucky, lucky her that it came to a happy ending.
Next story-thought playing through my head: pity the thief who steals a Stradivarius. What could have otherwise been yet another semi-lucrative train-station heist became a big deal when the violin case stolen happened to have a Stradivarius inside it. Like that, your crime went from petty to a serious heist in the blink of an eye, one that garners international attention and support all too quickly. And you can’t just sell a stolen Strad, anyway. Try it, and the appraiser will know in an instant not only that it’s a Strad, but which Strad it is. And that it has been stolen. You would be tried and fried, on the spot. The thief, likely recognizing this, tried to sell it on the street, instead, offering it to someone for $150 (ish) dollars. The guy turned it down, saying, “nah, my daughter already plays a recorder.” How’s that for an unlucky heist? Too make no money on it, and then get caught? Man. Life is so unfair.
Story-thought number three: after reading about the owner’s happiness at the return of her beloved instrument, you tend to visualize a happy reunion, the violin placed in her arms like a newborn baby, her tears of happiness (careful – not on the violin!) at the sight and feel of her beloved instrument again. Well, consider this: the insurance company owns the violin now. Louise Deacon, an instruments expert at the Lark insurance broker, said this: “We are looking forward to the outcome of our experts’ assessment on the condition of the instrument so we can then liaise with Ms. Kym with regards to purchasing back the Stradivari.” Because, you see, she took their six-figure insurance settlement. And so, now I wonder, what if she doesn’t have that money anymore? Like, she spent it?
But anyway. This is still a largely happily-ending story (unless you’re John Maughan reading this from prison). I love violin-related stories, and love hearing about any valuable instrument, believed missing, that turn up. And lest we give Min-Jin Kym too much grief about her irresponsibility, I’ll offer these two scenarios:
In 1999 cellist Yo-Yo Ma left his Stradivarius cello in a New York taxi. It was recovered, undamaged. Check out the details here: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/17/nyregion/in-concert-searchers-retrieve-yo-yo-ma-s-lost-stradivarius.html In 2008, violinist Philippe Quint left his Strad in a taxi. There is a charming story here, that involved a very dedicated, caring cab driver, who helped get it back to him, and Quint’s gratitude, a $100 tip (why so little?) and an impromptu performance for the cab driver and his friends (very cool). Check out the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/07/nyregion/07violin.html?_r=0