IMCA Insights – April 2012
Sikhote-Alin meteorite stolen from the Museum of the University of New-Mexico
by Anne Black, Dr. Carl Agee, Tim Heitz

The story begins with Dr. Carl Agee, Director of the Institute of Meteoritics, and Curator of the Meteorites Collection housed in the Museum, on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque:

Please click to open a larger picture in a new window!

Meteorite Museum of the University of New Mexico.
Front: the main mass of Norton County and Navajo (with a large
crack), hanging from the ceiling, a cast. In the back, the empty
case of the Sikhote-Alin. (Photo by Dr. Carl Agee)

One of our nicer display specimens in the Meteorite Museum at the University of New Mexico is the 9490 gram Sikhote-Alin. It was stolen from its display case, during public opening hours, sometime before Christmas break 2011 -- the exact day of the theft is still unknown to me. But I did discover that the meteorite was missing on New Year’s Day 2012, when I was giving Michael Farmer a private tour of the Meteorite Museum. The University was closed and the building had been locked up since before Christmas, but I came to campus that day, to meet Michael who had come from Arizona to show me some specimens of the new Martian fall, Tissint. After picking out some choice pieces of Tissint for the museum collection, I then offered Michael a tour of the museum on his way out. As I was showing him the museum displays, moving from case-to-case, I came upon a display where the Sikhote-Alin should have been – but it was empty, not even the label was there, the specimen stand was tipped over. In disbelief, I tried to imagine that perhaps one of our staff had removed it for research or perhaps to clean the display case. After checking with everyone, I sadly came to the conclusion that our valuable meteorite had been stolen. To make a long story short, we contacted the UNM police, they took fingerprints, and eventually we all went home.
That evening I contacted Anne Black, Vice President of IMCA, and she immediately offered to distribute an archival photo of our Sikhote-Alin with a report of its theft on the Internet. Then I went to bed.

Early in the evening of January 1, 2012, I received this email from Carl Agee:

"One of our museum display specimens was stolen out of its case -- most likely just before Christmas break, during opening hours. The case has a security alarm, but apparently the theft was not recorded as an alarm by UNM police. I discovered that the specimen was missing this morning when I was doing an inspection of the Meteorite Museum. The specimen is a "Sikhote-Alin" weighing 9490 grams -- see attached photo. I would like to alert the meteorite collector community to be on the look-out for this specimen, it is unique and easily identifiable as our property. What do you think would be the best way to inform those who could help us recover our specimen if it is offered for sale?

Carl Agee"

I promptly responded and told Carl that I would immediately tell everybody, and I sent the following email to MeteoriteCentral, the IMCA mailing list, Club Space Rock, the French Forum and others promptly copied it to other forums they knew (Thanks everybody!), and of course I emailed Meteorite Exchange:

"Hello everybody,

I am sorry but I do have bad news to start the New Year.
I just received the email below from Carl Agee from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. A 9490 grams Sikhote-Alin was stolen from their Museum right around Christmas time.
Please look at the picture (attached).
And please do watch for it, it could re-appear during the Tucson Show.

Thank you very much for your help.
Anne Black"

Paul Harris was quick and published a "wanted poster" with picture everywhere, Facebook, RSS Feeds, Twitter, and his many sites

Please click to open a larger picture in a new window!

Photo by Dr. Agee, as posted by Paul Harris

Then very very late that same evening I received an email and another picture from Michael Johnson with the comment "Does this look similar?". Yes, it did look like the same Sikhote-Alin, but as I immediately told Michael I would send the picture to Carl Agee and let him make the identification, and early the next morning he did:

"Hi Anne,

Incredible! This almost certainly is our specimen.
What next? Who has it?


When I called him a little later he told me:

When I looked at my email inbox in the morning I saw several emails from Michael Farmer and Michael Johnson, sent in the middle of the night, basically saying that they had information about the whereabouts of our Sikhote-Alin. Michael Johnson recognized the photo that Michael Farmer had posted on his Facebook page as the same Sikhote-Alin Tim Heitz had asked him about, concerning the value of the same sample, over the Christmas holidays. I then contacted the UNM police that morning, and they contacted Tim Heitz.

Then Carl added that the thief who had sold the Sikhote-Alin to Tim Heitz had bragged that he had more; consequently the Police Department was suspecting that the thief would try to come back and steal another one, and they had asked that the whole matter be kept very quiet so the thief would not accidentally hear that he had been found out.

The story now moves to St Louis and Tim Heitz:

On December 21th I received a phone call from a man saying he had a meteorite and wanted to sell it. I receive calls like this all the time. The next thing I usually do is ask that they send me a picture, the picture he did send wasn’t too clear, but it did look like a meteorite. I told him to mail the meteorite to me and if it was a meteorite, I would then buy it from him. I had him mail it to me like I have had dozens of other people do in the past.

Please click to open a larger picture in a new window!

Photo sent to Tim Heitz by the person who stole the Sikhote-Alin

On Saturday December 24th I received I found the box on my porch step with a big hole on the side of the box, it was a wonder it made it there. The hole in the box was so big you could put both hands inside the box with no problem, the meteorite was there, and it was a meteorite, so I went to WalMart and wired a money gram for $1,800 to him. The next day I took a picture of it and sent it to a man I thought was an expert with this kind type of meteorite, I really was shocked to find out what he thought it was worth.
Then, on Monday morning, January 2, my wife woke me up to tell me a detective from the New Mexico University called and said that I may have a stolen meteorite in my possession. When I called the detective back and when he told me what kind of meteorite it was, I told him that Yes I had it and I thought it didn't seem quite right paying such a low price for it but the man who sold it to me had told me that he knew it was worth a lot more but he needed the money for Christmas presents for his kids and wife. He stated that it belonged to his father who was a rock collector who had died a couple of months prior and it was part of his rock collection.
Then I had gotten in touch with Carl Agee of the Institute of Meteoritics at University of New Mexico where the meteorite had been stolen from. He told me he was sending someone to St. Louis to pick the meteorite up. So, on Thursday December 29 at 7:00 p.m. I met Lee Ann and her friend who had just arrived in St. Louis from the Institute of Meteoritics and I gave her the stolen meteorite. We talked for 2 hours about meteorites and as gift to compensate for my loss she gave me a 45 gram piece of Norton County. The Norton County meteorite is a rare type of meteorite, it is a witness fall and there is a wonderful story about how the University of New Mexico's ownership of Norton County came about. It was great to have such a rare and great piece of history added to my collection.

Please click to open a larger picture in a new window!

Lee Ann Lloyd and Tim Heitz
(Photo provided by Tim Heitz)

And the story concludes where it started, in Albuquerque, with a much happier Carl Agee:

Tim Heitz confirmed that he was in possession of the UNM Sikhote-Alin and would hold it safe for us. Over the next few days we discussed how the return of the specimen would be arranged and finally I decided that we would not risk having it sent by mail and so our administrative assistant Lee Ann Lloyd volunteered to fly to St. Louis to take possession of the Sikhote-Alin from Tim Heitz in person and bring it back to Institute of Meteoritics -- which she did on Friday, January 6. The outcome of this theft was incredibly good, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped in the recovery effort. My deepest thanks to everyone involved, especially to the quick, decisive action, on New Year’s Day, by Anne Black, Michael Farmer and Michael Johnson.
The epilogue is that a few weeks ago a local TV-news reporter showed up at the Institute of Meteoritics telling us University of New Mexico police had finally tracked down and arrested the person who stole our Sikhote-Alin. He was caught in the act of another campus burglary, and the police quickly realized that they already had an outstanding warrant for his arrest for the IOM meteorite theft!

Please click to open a larger picture in a new window!

Dr. Carl Agee and his recovered Sikhote-Alin
(Photo provided by Dr. Agee)

This article has been edited by Anne Black and Norbert Classen.

IMCA Home Page IMCA Code of Ethics IMCA Member List
Join IMCA IMCA Meteorite Info