December 30, 2004

Thieves steal artifacts from Mojave desert museum

Associated Press

Historic Auto club signs stolen from the Daggett Museum.

DAGGETT, Calif. - A break-in discovered Christmas Day has robbed the museum in this Mojave Desert town of its most prized possessions, including antique dolls and Native American artifacts on loan from local families.

The thieves methodically cleared out glass display cases in the Daggett Museum, said curator Beryl Bell, who discovered the burglary when she went to feed her goldfish over the holiday.

"It's really heartbreaking for a small museum," Bell said Wednesday.

The stolen Native American artifacts include a basket appraised at $3,500, a Navajo sash and two large clay Acoma pots that had never been appraised but are very valuable, said Leslie Lloyd, the president of the Daggett Historical Society, which runs the museum.

The thieves also took antique dolls, model trains and other toys, farming implements and examples of rocks from the area, Lloyd said.

The thieves ignored the computers and copy machine in the office of a local government agency that shares the low-slung modular building with the museum, but they stole $2 in coins from Lloyd's desk and a museum donation jar that contained about $10, she said.

Despite the theft of the change, Lloyd believes the burglars were experienced since they left no fingerprints and took steps to disable the alarm system - even though it wasn't operational at the time of the break-in.

"This appeared to be a very neat operation and it appeared they had a shopping list," she said.

The historical society has notified the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association, which plans to post news of the break-in on its Web site and will inform its 250 members by e-mail to look out for the stolen artifacts, said Alice Kaufman, the organization's executive director.

The historical society is offering a $500 reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the theft.

"What we're hoping is that if we raise enough fuss it will at least raise their tail feathers some," said Lloyd, 47, who has lived in the desert town of about 400 people all her life.

The museum, some six miles east of Barstow and about 125 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, plans to increase security to protect what remains of its collection and is only offering tours by appointment.