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Stradivarius Found 3 Days After Theft, Police Say

An unidentified woman discovered the $3.5-million cello near a Silver Lake trash bin.

May 18, 2004|J. Michael Kennedy and Sara Lin | Times Staff Writers

The $3.5-million Stradivarius cello stolen from the front steps of a cellist's home last month was found by a woman three days later near a Silver Lake dumpster, police said Monday.

But it was more than a week before she heard about the theft of the Stradivarius, police said in announcing the recovery.

The return of the "General Kyd," one of 60 Stradivarius cellos in existence, began Friday when a lawyer representing the 29-year-old woman contacted detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department's art theft detail.

The next day, police met with the lawyer, Ron Hoffman, and the woman, who turned over the cello in a silver-colored case.

Hoffman said his client, whom he declined to identify, was driving through Silver Lake when she noticed the case near a dumpster as she was stopped for a red light. She got out of the car, and a homeless man standing nearby helped her load it.

The woman, a Westside resident, brought the cello home and asked her boyfriend, a cabinet maker, if he thought he could repair it, Hoffman said.

"At this point she'd heard nothing about a stolen cello," the lawyer said. "They put it in the extra bedroom thinking that when he gets to it, he can repair it."

The woman also told her boyfriend that if he couldn't, the cello might make an unusual compact disc case.

"Thank God my boyfriend doesn't work too quickly on things of mine," the woman reportedly told Hoffman.

A week and a half later, Hoffman said, the couple was visiting friends when they saw part of a TV news report about the theft of a Stradivarius from the steps of Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Peter Stumpf's home in Los Feliz.

Hoffman said the pair asked themselves if the damaged cello she had found could possibly be the missing instrument. When they logged on to the police website, the two seemed to match. Then they noticed a faded date inside the cello, which looked like a year in the 1600s, the period when the cello was made.

The couple decided to surrender the cello through Hoffman after consulting several other lawyers. Hoffman said detectives interviewed the couple closely for several hours, asking a number of the same questions in different ways to see if they kept their stories straight.

"I'm a defense lawyer, and I anticipated the police were very interested in determining if my clients had anything to do with the theft or the receiving of the instrument," he said.

As for the $50,000 reward offered for the return of the cello, Hoffman said, his client is "still in shock over this revelation. They are feeling very grateful that she recovered it and was able to return it to its rightful owner."

News of the recovery was greeted with relief, though there was an unspecified amount of damage to the cello. Hoffman said there was a crack in the back and a number of scratches.

Still, "it's tremendously exciting," said Larry Sonderling, a violinist for the Philharmonic. "I just hope that instrument is in good shape."

Police and philharmonic officials have scheduled a news conference for this afternoon to release more details on the recovery. The cello was stolen on April 25 after Stumpf arrived home late at night after performing in Santa Barbara. He walked into his house, but forgot the cello on the front steps.

The next morning, a home security camera across the street caught the image of a young man getting off his bicycle and taking the cello from the porch. The film also recorded the sound of the bicyclist crashing into some trash cans before making his getaway.

Detectives went door to door seeking witnesses, without success.

On Monday, an LAPD source confirmed that the cello is cracked, which, according to other musicians, may not present a major repair problem.

"Years ago, another cellist backed over his cello, and it was completely put together," said Shelley Bovyer, another Philharmonic violinist. "It can be pretty darned damaged. Cracks can be minor because there are cracks all the time.

Violist Jerry Epstein agreed that a "fine fiddle worker" should be able to restore the instrument.

"It's going to be repairable," he said.

Paul Prier, a Salt Lake City bow maker, said it's possible that the repairs could be as simple as half a day's work.

"All these have some damage to them -- cracks or knocked-up corners or some repairs," he said.

Prier also said he doubted the Philharmonic would elaborate about the damage, because it could devalue the instrument.

"If there's some sort of fatal flaw, they'll want to hide it as well as possible," he said. "There's a good chance of this damage never coming to light."

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