An Accidental Detective
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by Frank Shortt
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What began as a normal Saturday morning Evergreen routine sure turned out to be a real surprising
turn of events. By nature, I am a collector, especially art and books.
I arose at 6:30 a.m. going
to the computer to read some scripture for the day. Having read two chapters from the book of Amos, I then went to Craig’s list to
check the garage sales in the Evergreen area. This day I only found a couple.
My first stop was
at the donut shop where I go every Saturday morning for a cup of Decaf/Hazelnut coffee and two chocolate/peanut donuts. The lady/owner
knows my routine by heart and just asks,
reply, “yes, ma’m”.
I always see a few of my Vietnamese friends there and we end up discussing
the weather, some politics, etc. One is a gardener. This we do while gulping down donuts, washing them down with hot coffee. This
day was no different.
My first stop near Los Altos Ct. was a bust. They were not even opened
I proceeded on the ‘Garage Sale Trail’ going to a sale advertised near Klien Road. When
I saw their merchandise I wondered if I shouldn’t have brought them something!
As I proceeded
up San Felipe Road, I noticed a sign which read, ‘Estate Sale’ with an arrow pointing to Yerba Buena Road. I turned to the right finding
the sale right away. I had visited a sale there a couple weeks before and had bought a small painting.
There were only some Asian antiques visible outside, which was of no interest to me, but on glancing into the garage I noticed a few
framed works of art. I asked Paul, the owner, if he had any more paintings for sale and he replied “maybe later.”
He recognized me as an art collector and asked me what I was up to this morning. I replied,
waiting for a sale to open over near Los Altos Ct. I’m hoping there will be some art there.”
“Let me know if there is anything of interest to me.”
I replied, “ok.”
Around 10 a.m. I headed off to the sale near Los Altos Ct. I noticed that they were now bringing things out for the sale so I went
into the yard.
I asked, “Do you have any other art for sale?” as I noticed a bad painting of
flowers leaning against the garage door.
“No, she replied, but do you have knowledge of different
I replied to the affirmative and asked her to show me the pieces in question. She proceeded
to do so.
Bringing out two Russian Icon paintings she lay them on the table before me. I noticed
that one was of a Madonna and Child with silver lacy material around it. The other was a face of Christ surrounded by a brass type
matting. I figured it was brass because it had the tell-tale marks of tarnishing. The Madonna and Child was the larger of the two
The owner asked me if I thought she should remove the backings in order to authenticate
“No, I replied adamantly. You will lower the value of the pieces if you do so.”
This has been my experience as most collectors want everything to be as original as possible.
“Where should I take the pieces to be evaluated?” she asked.
“Take them to Bonhams and Butterfield
in San Francisco, I replied, they have a free clinic once a week on Thursdays, I believe.”
whataya know, that’s where the old man who gave them to me bought them in the first place.”
ought to know their value then,” I replied.
The lady had told me she planned to bring out some
‘signed silkscreen prints’ later on in the day. She also said that she had some more expensive pieces that she wanted me to evaluate.
She had planned to take my phone number and call me when she brought them out. As we were discussing the icon paintings, she neglected
to get my phone number. I told her I would wait to see the prints, but she never did bring them out. I left without her number and
she without mine.
I then went back to the estate sale. I had promised Paul I would come back
and let him know what I had seen at the sale near Los Altos Ct. On my arrival Paul asked me if there was anything for sale that he
would be interested in.
“No, I don’t think so judging from what you have for sale here.
I informed him. But, I did see a couple of Russian Icon paintings which were of interest but were not for sale yet as the owner had
not had time to have them evaluated.”
“Were they of a Madonna and Child and a face of Christ?”
Paul wanted to know.
I replied to the affirmative.
sound just like a couple I lost recently”.
He sounded exasperated.
“Would you mind going back to the sale with me to see if the lady will allow us to see them?” he asked.
“Sure” I replied.
As we arrived in the yard, we noticed the lady whispering something to
her companion, fleeing into the house. She had no desire to talk to us for some reason. What I didn’t know was that Paul knew the
lady and that her nephew lived with him as a caretaker. The lady barred herself in the house and wouldn’t even allow her companion
Paul called the police department to get them involved. When they arrived, the investigating
policeman sent Paul and I back to Paul’s house to retrieve photos of the Icons. Paul had discussed this with the policeman.
Paul was able to find the photos right away. I was able to identify the two pieces that I had been shown, immediately. We then returned
to the sale site to show the photos to the policeman. Upon matching the photos with the two Icons, we were all assured that we had
indeed found Paul’s property and the lady had no room to squirm out of taking them.
When I went
to the trial as the chief witness, I found out that this same lady had been taking care of several elderly people and that she had
taken things belonging to all of them. In fact, she had a ring working for her, including her nephew.
Talk about being an ‘accidental detective’!
Elderly people should be aware of who is caring for
them. If it is in-home care, allow your children or a close trusted relative to put valuables in a safe deposit box or in their own
care. Never allow caretakers access to your credit cards or personal bank account. This will invite trouble! If you see that you are
becoming negligent in your financial affairs, appoint a trusted person to manage your affairs. Always have photos of antiques, such
as furniture or larger pieces. This helps identify the items if they should disappear.
not to imply that most caretakers are not honest. A certain amount of caution should be taken with the most trusted acquaintance.
Do not allow even the least bit of temptation for anyone.