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“Here We Go Again”: Finding My Stolen Gibson SG Standard Guitar

“Here We Go Again”: Finding My Stolen Gibson SG Standard — Doug Duncan — June 14, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016:
After 14 years of daily monitoring EBay searches and Google Alerts, I found my stolen Gibson SG Standard for sale on an EBay auction.   The serial number (900380) and my engraved Operation ID number were clearly visible in one of the posted photos.  This is the fourth of my eight guitars that I have found since the January 2002 burglary of my house.   In addition to the guitars, many other personal items were stolen, but the guitars were the most precious.

I immediately called investigator Pat Thompson at the Goodhue County Sheriff’s office.   Pat was involved in the 2002 investigation of my burglary, and in 2010 when I found my 1957 Gibson Les Paul for sale on EBay (see separate story).   Pat asked how precious this guitar was to me.  I told him it was my “number 2”, because my parents gave it to me for my high school graduation gift in 1971.  While on the phone with Pat, I sent him a link to the EBay auction for this stolen guitar.  He too could read the previously recorded serial number and my unique Operation ID number in one of the photos.  Pat said he would talk to legal counsel, and asked me to call my insurance company in the mean time and have them contact him.

The property insurance that I’ve had for decades, and still do, including at the time of my 2002 burglary, is North Star Mutual Insurance Company in Cottonwood, MN.   I talked to Tyson Rosa, who was involved when I found my 1957 Gibson Les Paul in 2010 — which I never got back, by the way — despite hundreds of stories on the internet to the contrary.   I gave Tyson the contact information for Pat Thompson.  Tyson asked if the Gibson SG Standard is a guitar I would like to buy back.  I said yes, depending on the price.  The reason I added the “depending on the price” is that Tyson had me bidding against a dealer in 2010 to get my Les Paul guitar back.

Since the EBay auction for “my” Gibson SG Standard revealed no information about the seller, other than a nickname, I started doing Google searches for my stolen guitar, trying to find the identity of the seller.  He is located in Bend, Oregon.  So, I searched Craigslist and every other source I could think of, to no avail.   So, I decided to purchase a Fender guitar the seller also had for sale on an EBay “Buy It Now” listing to identify him.  That guitar cost me $1635!  The PayPal payment information revealed the seller’s name, which I was quickly able to cross-reference with Google searches to find his phone number, home address, business address, etc.   I must add that my investigation revealed excellent feedback for the seller’s business in Bend — he is a healthcare provider.   His extensive EBay feedback was also stellar.   I then forwarded all this information to Pat Thompson, and emphasized that I doubted the seller (“Kevin”) was a shady character.

Thursday, April 14, 2016:
The Fender guitar I purchased from Kevin arrived.  That transaction went smoothly, and Kevin was pleasant to deal with.   So, I needed to acknowledge receipt of the guitar and leave him EBay feedback.   Before doing so, I emailed Pat Thompson to see how the recovery of my stolen guitar from Kevin was going.   Note that Kevin was not aware that he had just sold the Fender guitar to the previous owner of the stolen Gibson SG Standard.

Friday, April 15, 2016:
Pat Thompson called me and reported that he was out sick on Thursday, but had just talked with Kevin on the phone.  Pat said that Kevin was very nice and felt really bad about having my stolen guitar.   Kevin had bought the guitar about a year ago on an EBay auction from an Ashland, Wisconsin pawn shop.   I asked Pat if Kevin would be able to get his money back after turning over the guitar.   Pat replied that Tyson, at North Star Insurance, told him I didn’t want the guitar so “gave” it to Kevin!   I was shocked, and told Pat that I had not said that to Tyson, but in fact told him I wanted to get the guitar back.   Pat was sorry to hear that, but could no longer do anything about it.   I thanked Pat for his efforts and told him I was going to call Tyson at North Star.

My call to Tyson did not go well at all!  He claimed I told him I didn’t want the guitar, which is totally untrue.   I asked him why he thought I’ve spent 14 years looking for it.   He started getting defensive and said they legally owned the guitar and could do whatever they wanted with it.   I reminded him of all the work I’ve done through the years trying to find my stolen guitars, and how my continuing efforts brought $5000 back to them in 2010 when they sold my stolen Les Paul, I’d just found, to a dealer.   Also, that the first two guitars I found in 2002 saved them from paying for replacements.  Tyson said he would talk to their legal counsel in a week or so, after he got back from vacation.   I insisted he did so immediately.   In a few minutes Tyson called me back and said there was nothing that could be done, since he had conveyed legal title of the guitar to Kevin that morning.  He went on to say they had no records of settling my burglary and had no record of my guitar and no idea what they paid me for it in 2002.   Question: What gave North Star the right to convey title to a guitar they have no record of owning?   I was furious with Tyson and told him I DO have good records and that they had paid me $2000 for it in 2002.  He countered that the case was settled years ago and he just wanted it off his desk.  I then ended our conversation, but told him I was not done with this matter.

So, feeling out of options, I emailed Kevin asking him to call me.   He did so immediately and was very surprised that I was the same person he’d just sold the Fender to, AND the person the Gibson SG Standard in his possession was stolen from in 2002.   Kevin is a truly nice guy and wanted me to get the guitar back if we could work out the terms.   So, in the end I sent him $1600 for the guitar and shipping, and he immediately shipped it to me.  It arrived Monday April 18th, one week after I saw it for sale on EBay!  It is great to have it back, although it looks very beat up (including cracks) compared to when I last saw it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Received email from my local independent insurance agency, where I have always purchased my property insurance.  (They sell other insurance in addition to North Star)  I recently gave them copies of my accounts of finding the stolen Les Paul guitar in 2010, and the stolen SG Standard last month, because I am very unhappy with the way Tyson at North Star Mutual handled things this time.   My agent forwarded my stories to their North Star field rep, who talked to Tyson, then replied to them that apparently Tyson says I am lying!  I absolutely did NOT tell him I didn’t want my Gibson SG guitar back, although he claims I did.   Additionally, Tyson claims he offered the guitar back to me.   That never happened!  In fact Tyson never contacted me other than to reply to my second email asking if he received investigator Pat Thompson’s contact info — which also included my contact information.   It should be easy for him to produce a phone record or email record if he had contacted me after that to discuss purchasing the guitar.  I called him the day I found the Gibson SG guitar (April 11th) and the day he gave the guitar away (April 15th), and have phone records to prove it.   If his response was that he made a mistake or simply apologized, instead of lying, this would be less infuriating.   His response doesn’t come close to passing the “sniff test”.  Why in the world would I spend 14 years looking for a guitar, along with $1635 to identify the EBay seller, if I didn’t want the guitar.   On top of that, I spent $1600 to buy the guitar back after Tyson gave it to Kevin — because I didn’t want the guitar?!!!!   I fully expected to buy the guitar back from North Star Mutual, but was not given the chance.  I have never disputed what the law is on these recovered guitars that I was reimbursed for in 2002.  In fact, I felt that North Star treated me well in settling my 2002 burglary.   I expect some “pressure” from my local insurance agency, where I’ve been a life-long customer, helped a lot too.  What I expected this time was some consideration and appreciation for all the work I’ve put into finding FOUR stolen guitars in the last 14 years — resulting in savings and cash for North Star.   Although I got nothing out of finding my 1957 Les Paul in 2010, North Star ended up with $5000 they would not have had without my efforts.   I didn’t dispute then or now that is the law.   My main frustration with the 2010 case was how Dave’s Guitars was involved.  However, this time I was hoping for a break on what I’d have to pay them to get my guitar back, in recognition of my ongoing efforts.   Since they paid me $2000 for the guitar in 2002, I knew they could ask up to that amount, which I’d have paid – grudgingly.   Instead North Star gave away “my” guitar that Tyson said they have no record of owning, and ended up with nothing.  If it was to be given away, it should have been to me — the guy who worked so hard to find it.  Apparently, I didn’t even deserve one phone call!  Isn’t that the law?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Emailed my local independent insurance agent to ask about any further response from North Star.  I stated that the bottom line is that I shouldn’t have had to pay $1600 for a guitar that I found, North Star had no record of owning, and was willing to give away.  I also added that I would be filing a BBB complaint in a week or so, if I heard no more.    Part of my agent’s response after talking to another North Star Mutual Insurance representative:

After I talked to him, and he read your summary of the situation, he agreed that the work that you put into the investigation should have been acknowledged, and that there obviously was a miscommunication that wasn’t handled properly.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
I’ve heard no more from North Star directly, or through my local agent, so filed a BBB complaint today.

Sunday, July 31, 2016 — Final Update
This ordeal surprisingly came to a good end. Read on …
Unfortunately, the North Star employee that responded to my BBB complaint was Tyson! He did not waver in his position, and my response was essentially restating what I had already written. Pretty pointless and going nowhere. So, before I cancelled my North Star insurance, I sent an email to them: “attention Public Relations”. I briefly explained the situation, and asked if Tyson’s response through the BBB was really North Star’s official response. Well, that changed everything! Within 48 hours I received a call from the Director of Field Claims saying that management was completely unaware of my dispute, and in fact were on my side — I deserved better treatment for my extraordinary effort over 14 years and decades of being a customer. They had gathered copies of my story, and found it totally believable. Why would I be making such a “fuss” if I didn’t want the guitar back? The Director said he was tasked with arriving at a mutually acceptable settlement with me, and it wasn’t even contingent upon me staying with them as a customer. Our lengthy conversation seemed honest, sincere and pleasant. In the end we agreed that North Star would cover half the cost I paid to get the guitar back. So, with my faith restored, I paid my North Star Mutual Insurance premiums to stick with them through my local independent insurance agent. The End!

My Gibson SG Standard in 1978 when a member of "Conbrio"

My 1966 Gibson SG Standard in 1978 when I was the lead guitar player of “Conbrio”

Holding my 1966 Gibson SG in April 2016 after finding it for sale on Ebay after a 14-year search. It was stolen in January 2002.

Holding my 1966 Gibson SG in April 2016 after finding it for sale on Ebay following a 14-year search. It was stolen in January 2002, along with eight other guitars and much more, when my house was burglarized.

“Stolen Guitar Recovered” – The Rest of the Story …

The story of me “recovering” or “getting back” one of my stolen guitars was published and broadcast in over 300 news stories around the world in 2010. (Do a Google search with the words: “Doug Duncan stolen 1957 Les Paul”, and you’ll see LOTS of examples) The story was picked up by AP and UPI, but originally published by a newspaper in California. Their reporter is the ONLY one who ever interviewed me. Other versions of the story were propagated from each other in a sort of “telephone game” way, with some ridiculous fabrications. However, quite to the contrary, there was no happy ending to the story, and I DID NOT GET MY GUITAR BACK. Since I am still frequently asked about this incident, I feel compelled to write a bit about how it actually unfolded.

In January 2002 my house was burglarized. Among the many things stolen, were eight guitars. One of them was a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Special that I’d owned since the 1970’s.  Immediately afterwards, I contacted every music store and pawn shop I could find in the region, via email, surface mail, and in person, with descriptions and serial numbers of my guitars. Most were sympathetic and helpful, although some proved to be crooks. Maybe more about that in another post?

As a computer-savvy person, I’ve had automatic alerts set up since 2002, and still do, looking for my guitars. In August 2010, my 1957 Gibson Les Paul Special showed up on EBay. I contacted the local law enforcement, who had been involved in the burglary investigation in 2002. Thankfully, one of the original investigators involved in my case in 2002 took a strong interest and contacted the seller in California as an interested buyer — using an alias, of course. Once the location was determined, California law enforcement confiscated the guitar and held it until positive identification was proven. Once that was accomplished, the guitar was shipped back to my insurance company in Minnesota. Since they had compensated me for the guitar in 2002, they were the legal owner. This process took weeks, but eventually I received a call from my insurance company asking me about the guitar they now had in their possession. Due to the years that had passed, they had no records of how much they had paid me for that guitar or any knowledge of what the guitar was worth. However, the agent said that an attorney representing Dave Rodgers (Dave’s Guitars in LaCrosse, Wisconsin) had already made an offer of $5000 for it. Note that this is BEFORE I, as the victim of this crime and ONLY party responsible for “finding” this guitar, had been contacted by my insurance company. The agent asked if I wanted to make a higher offer to get “my guitar” back. Needless to say, this annoyed me, but I truthfully told the agent that they had paid me $5000 for the guitar in 2002. He gave me about a month to decide whether I wanted to bid on “my guitar”. I also gave him a range of what I thought the guitar might really be worth.

The only way that I could have “won” my guitar back at that time, was by borrowing the money. Additionally, with the vintage guitar market so soft, I was concerned about whether the guitar would sell, if I needed to do so. Therefore, when my deadline came, I declined to put in a bid to “get my guitar back”.

A few weeks later, “my guitar” showed up for sale AGAIN on EBay from the same seller in California. I’m in no way blaming this seller of wrong doing, by the way. Now for the troublesome information that I learned from the investigator: Dave’s Guitars had bought my guitar after it was stolen, then sold it to someone who sold it to the person trying to sell it in California. Okay, except for the facts that Dave could not produce any information of who he bought the guitar from AND the fact that Dave’s Guitars had been given descriptions and serial numbers of my stolen guitars by law enforcement and by me. I still have the email from Dave confirming this in 2002.

Now, all of this could be an oversight, but it is very disappointing, at the least. Part of my motivation in looking for my stolen guitars is to solve the burglary and hopefully lead to “my baby” — one of the other guitars stolen that I bought new at the age of 13. (I was born in 1953) It is possible that the 1957 Gibson was not the only guitar of mine sold to Dave’s Guitars or that the person who sold it at least had knowledge of the others, but with no records, it is a dead end.

I have met and visited with Dave while a friend was buying guitars from him, and judge him as intelligent, knowledgeable and very “hands on” in dealing vintage guitars. Case in point: on another occasion I brought three vintage guitars to Dave’s Guitars to see what they would offer me for them.  During the evaluation they made a call to Dave to discuss the guitars before even giving me an answer.  Yes, mistakes can happen and maybe you can accidentally buy a stolen guitar while possessing information that states it is stolen.  However, if it were me I’d at least have tried to make things right with ALL the victims after learning the truth – even a phone call to apologize would have paid dividends! Any savvy business person knows that reputation is EVERYTHING.

I wish I had a better story to tell — and I’ve told this story many times since 2010. As an attorney friend said, just the facts look bad, without any spinning. In this age of computers, it is so easy to keep a searchable list of serial numbers and descriptions of stolen guitars. Other guitar dealers have told me they do just that, for their own protection, if nothing else.

So, NO, I did not get my guitar back, or even see it again, for that matter. For all my effort I have NO additional information leading to my other guitars or burglary, but instead frustration and disappointment. However, I do appreciate the local law enforcement for doing what they could and look forward to the day when “the rest of the story” may too go international to dispel the fictional story the media seemed to cherish so much.

Me playing my 1957 Les Paul in 1977