BENTONVILLE A little alchemy by a metals dealer helped Bentonville police solve the theft of a couple of safes packed with treasures that included rare coins and a silver ingot.
When the thieves tried to sell the 62.5-pound silver bar at a metal recycling business, the proprietor convinced the burglars that the bar was really made of lead and gave them $30 for it. Then he called police.
Bentonville police Detective Mike Stegall said six people have been arrested in the caper, including Jonathan Hodge, who worked as a handyman for Roger Trautman, who owns apartments and a bookstore in town. Hodge hasn't yet been charged.
"They're all just friends with each other," Stegall said.
Trautman reported the theft Aug. 19, in which the safes were taken from a closet in his apartment. Among the items inside were the silver bar, valued at about $15,000; five gold Eagle coins valued at $1,000 each; 10 other gold coins valued at about $10,000; and a rare D. H. Lawrence first-edition book with an estimated value of $5,000.
Also taken was a bag of silver coins worth about $10,000 and a number of World War II medals, court documents show.
"They're kids, they had no idea what they had," Stegall said. The arrests took place on different days after the theft, officials said.
Trautman said Tuesday that a rare letter was also taken but broke off a phone interview with the AP after only a moment.
Also arrested in the case were Adam Phillips, Brandon Windham, Alicia Linn, Maxwell Horton and a juvenile.
Trautman told police that he felt Hodge may know something about the theft. Stegall questioned Hodge, and he admitted his involvement. Stegall said Hodge told him that his roommate, Phillips, suggested stealing the safes after seeing money in one of them.
Phillips, 20, of Bentonville is charged with residential burglary, a class B felony; Windham, 21, of Springdale, is charged with breaking or entering, a class D felony; and Linn, 18, of Springdale is charged with theft by receiving, a class B felony. Formal charges have not been filed against Hodge in connection with the crime.
Hodge claimed Horton and the juvenile also assisted with the crime, according to an arrest affidavit.
Phillips said the group took the safes to Windham's home in Springdale, where they used a cutting torch and crowbars to break into them. Phillips said Windham was paid $200 for his effort and was told the safes belonged to Phillips' father, according to the affidavit.
Linn admitted to selling some coins for to a Fayetteville coin shop for $5,000, Stegall said.
"She had no idea what she had," Stegall said. The coin dealer cooperated with investigators and the coins were recovered, though the dealer is out the money he paid Linn.
"Of course she went on a spending spree and blew it," Stegall said. He said the dealer told him he should have suspected something was amiss. "Actually, he's another victim," Stegall said.
Stegall said other items have been found, too.
"I've recovered most of it. Some of the items - the (book was) listed as pretty valuable - I haven't recovered those," he said.
The silver bar was recovered thanks to the metals dealer. Stegall said some of the suspects went to a Fayetteville metals business, where they were tricked into giving up the ingot for a pittance.
"It was a standard silver bar," Stegall said. "It was something you'd picture seeing in a vault in a bank, stacks of them. It wasn't a little one." A standard bar weighs 62.5 pounds - 1,000 ounces.
The metals dealer didn't have to make a hard sell.
"They convinced themselves it was lead or aluminum. This is a bar that a grown man has to bow up to pick it up, they think it's aluminum," Stegall said.
The arrest affidavit, relying on Phillips' account, said they agreed to $30 for the ingot because they needed money for gas.
Stegall said other pieces have turned up at local shops, though the literary artifacts have not been located.
Authorities say Phillips has admitted involvement in other crimes in the area, including burglary, auto theft and arson. Charges have not been filed in those cases.