PATERSON — Three of four antique firearms stolen from the Paterson Museum a dozen years ago were recovered Monday by detectives who said the weapons had been offered for sale on the Internet.
Police in the major crimes unit recovered two Colt revolvers — a .28-caliber Colt Paterson Baby model and a .31-caliber Colt No. 3 Belt — that were stolen in Sept. 1998 along with a replica Colt Paterson with a 9-inch barrel, the Paterson police said.
“The major crimes unit received information that a Butler man was attempting to sell these three weapons on the Internet,” said Detective Lt. Ron Humphrey, who worked the case in 1998.
An investigating detective from Paterson made arrangements to meet in Garfield with the man selling the firearms, Humphrey said.
“He turned over the weapons, which were positively identified,” Humphrey said. “The serial numbers matched.”
The man selling the Colts was not charged, police said. He found the weapons in his attic after buying his house in Butler a few years ago and was trying to sell them.
“He was doing work in the attic and found the weapons,” Humphrey said. “He is cooperating and is not a suspect at this time. He found them in the attic then he started making inquiries on the Internet.”
A fourth weapon, a silver-colored .38-caliber Smith & Wesson with black handgrips is still missing. Also stolen that night was $200 in petty cash. The two Colts were manufactured in Paterson in the 19th century.
“They’re in good condition when they were recovered,” Humphrey said. “The case was open all these years … Believe it or not, I didn’t think they would ever find them,”
The four weapons, all of which are inoperable, were worth a total of $250,000 at the time they were stolen from the private office of the museum’s director, Giacomo De Stefano, who was present with police to identify the revolvers when they were recovered in Garfield.
The guns had been stored in the office, which was separate from the main part of the museum where a 31-piece collection of antique Colt firearms was on display at the time.
De Stefano reported the theft after returning from an evening lecture in Ringwood where he had spoken about the manufacture of Colt revolvers in Paterson in the early 1800s.
Samuel Colt conceived the idea of a firearm with a revolving chamber and secured financial backing from local businesses and Patersonians. Famous for its unique engravings, the steel-barreled Colt is considered by gun experts to be one of the finest firearms ever made.
The Colt Mill at Mill and Van Houten streets in Paterson is where the first .45-caliber revolvers were manufactured.
Both of the stolen Colts were donated to the museum in 1982 by the estate of Paul Applegate Jr. of Morristown, and De Stefano considered them invaluable. They were being temporarily stored in De Stefano’s locked and alarmed office. There were no signs of forced entry to the office, and one of the Colts was taken from a locked glass cabinet, which had been smashed. The burglar tripped the alarm, but police could not get into the museum at the time.
Monday, November 29, 2010
BY EVONNE COUTROS