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Suspect held in thefts of rare Gold Rush-era items from museum

March 5, 2013 |  6:16 pm

 Gold-Rush-era jewelry box.A rare Gold Rush-era jewelry box pilfered in one of two recent museum break-ins has been recovered and a 45-year-old parolee arrested, Oakland museum and police officials said Tuesday.

Andre Taray Franklin was arrested Sunday and booked into Santa Rita Jail on suspicion of violating parole, burglary and possession of stolen property.

On Tuesday, prosecutors charged Franklin only with receiving stolen property, but police have identified him as the suspect in both museum burglaries -- one on Jan. 9 of this year, when the rare quartz and gold box was taken, and one Nov. 12 last year, when gold nuggets and other items were stolen.

Only the box has been recovered.

In a declaration of probable cause for the arrest, an Oakland officer wrote that Franklin had images on his cellphone of items taken in both museum heists. His parole violation pertained to an earlier conviction for possessing stolen property.

According to the complaint filed by the Alameda County district attorney’s office, Franklin was charged with receiving both the stolen inlaid jewelry box valued at $805,000, and a six-barrel pistol that dates from 1947-1965.

The complaint alleges that Franklin, who has 10 previous convictions, including for three commercial burglaries and petty theft,  destroyed or damaged more than $200,000 worth of stolen material in his possession.

The burglaries of the Oakland Museum of California came at a time of rising crime and dwindling police resources in Oakland: burglaries in 2012 rose 44% over 2011.

The museum had offered a $12,000 reward for recovery of the signed compact box, crafted between 1869 and 1878 by A. Andrews, a San Francisco goldsmith. The base rests on feet formed of four miniature female figures depicting allegorical California. The lid’s interior is engraved in full relief with scenes of the early days of the Union and Central Pacific railroads, mounted Native Americans, herds of buffalo and a train of cars.

In a statement Tuesday, museum Director Lori Fogarty thanked Oakland police “for their expert assistance” in recovering the box, which museum officials had feared would be melted down.

“We hope to have the artifact back on view in the Gallery of California History as soon as feasible in the coming weeks, following careful conservation examination,” she said.

According to the Oakland Tribune, detectives recovered the box at a business that they declined to identify.


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Photo: Gold-Rush-era jewelry box. Credit: Oakland Museum of California