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Mann admits stealing a War of Independence rifle in 1971


In October 1971, a Revolutionary War-made rifle was stolen from a display case at the Valley Forge State Park Visitor Center in Pennsylvania.

The case was deemed theft-proof, but someone used a crowbar to break it in broad daylight shortly after the museum, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, opened that morning, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer who wrote about the theft at the time.

Some time later, on a tour with his troops, a boy scout noticed that the rifle, a five-foot-long weapon made by master gunsmith Johann Christian Oerter, was missing.

Forty-seven years later, in July 2018, the man who stole the rifle, Thomas Gavin, sold it, along with a case containing more than 20 antique pistols and a Native American silver concho belt, to Kelly Kinzle, a Pennsylvania antique dealer who sold him US $ 27,150 -Dollars paid, according to federal court documents.

On Tuesday, Mr Gavin, 78, pleaded guilty to one case of disposing of a cultural heritage stolen from a museum, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. He was held on $ 100,000 bail before being sentenced on November 15.

His lawyer did not immediately respond to a message for comment.

In February 2020, FBI agents and detectives from the Upper Merion Township Police Department interviewed Mr. Gavin, who admitted that, according to a consent form, he had stolen the Oerter rifle and antique weapons from other museums across Pennsylvania.

Mr Gavin admitted stealing revolvers and pistols from several institutions, including the American Swedish Historical Museum, Valley Forge Historical Society, and the Pennsylvania Farm Museum, the settlement said. The weapons, one of which had a bayonet, were made in the 18th and 19th centuries, the document says.

He also confessed to stealing the silver belt and several firearms made in the 1850s from the Hershey Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, according to court documents.

The rifle, taken from the Valley Forge visitor center, was made in 1775 by Oerter, a gunsmith in the Moravian settlement of Christian’s Spring, near Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

David Condon, an antique firearms expert who examined the rifle, said its market value was $ 175,000 according to court documents.

An attorney for Mr. Kinzle, the antique dealer, told the New York Times in 2019 that his client discovered he had bought a stolen gun after reading a 1980 book by George Shumway, an expert on the theft of the Oerter – Rifle had read antique long rifles that died in 2011.

The rifle was one of a number of antique firearms that were stolen from the Valley Forge Historical Society and Valley Forge State Park Museum in the late 1960s and 1970s, according to federal prosecutors. Valley Forge was established as a national park in 1976.

Prosecutors said that under the agreement, Mr. Gavin should be sentenced to no more than $ 20,200 in compensation. They did not specify which verdict they would recommend to the judge.

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