$12,000 in collectibles stolen from Jacksonville Military Museum; police seeking suspect

FILE — A Jacksonville police vehicle is shown in this 2014 file photo.

Jacksonville police are looking for an unidentified man who is suspected of stealing nearly $12,000 worth of military collectibles from the Jacksonville Museum of Military History two weeks ago and vanishing without a trace.

According to a Jacksonville Police Department incident report, the thefts were believed to have occurred on Sept. 12 but were not noticed until Sept. 15, at which time police were called. 

Taken, according to James Anderson, the museum curator, were a Carl Gustav M/45 9mm submachine gun valued at $10,000, a British Sten Mark II 9mm submachine gun valued at $1,100, both of which had been demilitarized. Also taken were two swords, a Naval officer’s sword Model 1860 valued at $650, and a Civil War NCO sword Model 1840 valued at $625.

Surveillance images from the museum show a white man with heavily tattooed forearms walking into the museum. He was wearing black sneakers, bluejeans, a short-sleeved collared shirt with vertical white, maroon and black stripes and a brown cap and held what appeared to be a cell phone in his left hand. A subsequent photo shows the same man, now carrying a large black bag slung over his left shoulder, exiting the museum.

According to surveillance images from the museum, a white man with heavily tattooed forearms wearing black sneakers, bluejeans, a short-sleeved collared shirt with vertical white, maroon and black stripes and a brown cap, holding what appears to be a cell phone in his left hand, walked into the museum. A subsequent photo shows the same man, now carrying a large black bag slung over his left shoulder, exiting the museum.

The report said the museum director, Elizabeth Harward told police that the man came into the museum, walked to the back and sneaked into the archives room. Three days later, the report said, Harward noticed the machine guns missing and upon reviewing security video, saw the man acting suspiciously in the archives room, then walking out and hiding one of the guns behind a flag. He was seen later on video coming back with a backpack.

Anderson said one of the firearms, the British Sten, was recently recovered inside the museum, where it is believed the thief stashed it with the intention of returning later to retrieve it. He said while reviewing video from one of the 10 security cameras situated throughout the museum, the suspect was seen placing the magazine from the Sten inside a trainer aircraft on display.

“We were trying to figure out why he would leave the magazine for the Sten here,” Anderson said. “It would make no sense to just leave it here and it’s such a small item he could have just easily pocketed it.”

But, he said, after the assistant director reviewed additional security footage, it was discovered that the suspect had been hiding in one area of the museum for an extended period of time and when that area was checked, Anderson said, the Sten was discovered hidden underneath a display.

“Presumably, he was going to come back and take those because he didn’t have the capacity to carry all of the weapons out at the same time,” he said. “He did stuff the swords down his pants and he placed the Swedish K in a book bag. He just happened to leave this one weapon because he didn’t have the ability to carry them all out at the same time so we figured he was planning to come back.”

The discovery of the Sten, Anderson said, was made Monday after he and others reviewed video footage and made a thorough search of the area.

“He found a good hiding place for it,” he said. “It wasn’t where someone would just stumble upon it.”

Anderson surmised that the thief’s plan to come back to retrieve the remaining items was stymied when news of the theft began circulating on social media.

“We weren’t expecting this to blow up everywhere and we were hoping he would come back and we would call the police and have him apprehended,” he said. “But, it’s now on social media and everywhere else.”

Anderson said he believes the same man stole a Thompson submachine gun that belonged to him two years ago.

“I have a World War II jeep that is fully stocked with just about everything you can think of that would have been in it during the war,” he said. “It’s part of my personal collection that I put on display in the museum every once in a while and I use for events and what have you. I had a Thompson submachine gun inside a canvas carry bag in the jeep that was pretty hard to get to but he managed to pull it out and he took the actual Thompson submachine gun.”

It wasn’t until after the most recent theft, Anderson said, that employees recognized the man and realized that he was the same person believed to have stolen Anderson’s weapon.

“Nobody recognized him until after the latest theft,” he said. “We were going through the footage and ,lo and behold, it was him.”

Anderson said none of the weapons involved are functional as firearms and are only intended for display as historical artifacts.

“They’ve all been welded and cut so they cannot fire ever again,” he said. “In fact, if anybody even tried to make them functional in any way, shape or form, it would just blow up in their face.”

Jacksonville Police Detective William Doughty said Thursday that so far police have made scant progress in locating the thief or the stolen items but are hoping someone will recognize him and give them a call.

“It’s just about getting his face out there more, that’s the main thing,” he said. “Once we’ve got a name to go with a face we can start really putting the work in to figure our where that stuff is, what he’s done with it.”

Anderson said he is at a loss to understand why the weapons were stolen considering that options for selling stolen historical artifacts are few and would place a seller at risk of arrest.

“I just can’t believe somebody would come and do something like this, especially since they’re such unique items. Good luck selling them anywhere,” he said. “Nobody would buy these in a million years if they do their research.”

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History, 100 Veteran’s Circle in Jacksonville, is located on the original grounds of the Jacksonville Ordnance Plant administration building, which was the primary manufacturer of fuses and detonators during WWII. It’s purpose, according to the museum website, is to foster an appreciation for the men and women who served in the military and to to educate the public on the important military and home front role played by the community and the men and women of the armed services.