“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