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Jeweler helps retrieve pieces stolen at Cheviot Hills open house

A necklace and matching bracelet custom-made for Tamara Kroner's wedding and intended to be passed down through the family had been stolen. Getting them back was a long shot.

July 28, 2009|Martha Groves

The looky-loos must have felt they'd hit the jackpot when they pried open a locked drawer at the Cheviot Hills open house last month.

Inside were passports, credit cards, emergency cash, gold coins and thousands of dollars' worth of jewelry, including a three-strand pearl necklace with a gold, emerald and diamond centerpiece and matching bracelet that Tamara Kroner had worn in her October 1993 wedding.

Such tales seldom have happy endings. This time was different.

Thanks to Kroner's own diligence, the help of a Los Angeles police detective and a quick-thinking Santa Monica jewelry store owner, the purloined wedding set was recovered last week and two women were arrested.

It was the loss of the custom-made necklace and bracelet, prominent in her wedding photos, that pierced Kroner's heart. Her mother had intended them as future family heirlooms that Kroner could one day pass on to her daughter.

"I thought, 'Boy, did they luck out, and boy, do I feel stupid,' " Kroner said Friday as she stood in the closet with the now-empty drawer.

The police found no fingerprints, but Kroner filed a report anyway, recognizing that recovery of the items would be a long shot.

At the suggestion of Det. Gilbert Esquibel, Kroner mailed 350 letters with photos of the missing necklace and bracelet to area pawnshops and jewelers.

To her surprise, a few days later she got a call from Michael Kurt, owner of Jewels by Kurt in Santa Monica. Some days before, he told her, two women had come in offering to sell a matching choker and bracelet. He offered them $850, but they wanted more.

As the weeks passed, word of the theft spread and a real estate broker recalled seeing two young women at an open house near the Kroners' Spanish Colonial Revival-style home.

Wondering whether they were serious lookers, he noted that they were driving a new Cadillac STS luxury sedan. Kroner's agent, meanwhile, confirmed that two women matching the descriptions had walked through their Troon Avenue open house.

The break came last week, when Kurt called to say the women had contacted him, asking if his offer was still good. To buy time, he told them he couldn't see them for a couple of hours. In the meantime, he and Kroner contacted police.

Two plainclothes officers arrived and waited in the back of the store as detectives watched outside. Soon, a woman came in with a necklace and bracelet. Kurt said he negotiated with her and went into the back on the pretense of getting the cash.

Seconds later, he said, "in walks the other young lady with a police officer." Officers handcuffed both women and led them away. Kroner said Esquibel later told her that they had been driving a new Cadillac STS luxury sedan.

"I called Tamara right away," Kurt said.

Kroner, chastened by the experience, said that the wedding set normally would have been in a safe-deposit box but that her sister had borrowed the necklace and bracelet for a party.

Kroner, who works with her husband -- coincidentally, his name is Kurt -- at their environmental consulting company, said she simply hadn't gotten around to stashing it away.

Now, she's coping with fraudulent charges on her credit cards and hoping her engagement ring and the pieces she inherited from her grandmother will turn up.

"It is truly a story that in my wildest dreams I did not think would have a just ending," Kroner said.

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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