Man who stole Revolutionary-era rifle from museum decades ago sentenced to 1 day

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A 78-year-old Pennsylvania man who stole a rare Revolutionary-era rifle from a museum in 1971 was sentenced Tuesday to a day in prison and a year in prison, prosecutors said.

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Thomas Gavin of Potstown was also fined $25,000 and ordered to pay restitution of $23,385.

Officials said he had kept the flintlock rifle made by gunman Johan Christian Orter in his barn for 47 years in 1775, when he stole it from a display case at the Valley Forge State Park Museum.


Theft goes unnoticed for the dealer who bought the rifle in 2018 and later realized its importance, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported When the following year the artifacts were returned to their rightful owners.

“I actually thought it was a reproduction,” said antiques dealer Kelly Kinzel, according to the newspaper at the time. “My first hunch was that it had to be a fake, because a real gun wouldn’t be visible in today’s world in a barn. Things like this are already in collections.”

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Prosecutors said Gavin pleaded guilty to a single count of disposing of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum in July.

His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday night.

Citing Gavin’s age and health problems, the attorney argued for no jail time in court documents, including a stroke he had suffered three years earlier.

“He stole this rifle for his admiration,” not to make money, and it was sold for a fraction of its actual value, the lawyer argued in a sentencing memo. He said that Gavin is a collector of all kinds of vintage items kept in his barn.

Prosecutors said in court documents that Gavin admitted to stealing other guns and items from other museums in the 1960s and 1970s, some of which were sold with rare rifles, and that he helped authorities identify their rightful owners. helped.

“After four decades, justice has finally caught up with this defendant,” said Jennifer Arbitier Williams, a US attorney for eastern Pennsylvania, in a statement.

The stolen and recovered Christian Otter rifle is one of only two known rifles that have survived with the original flint mechanism bearing the manufacturer’s name and the site and date of its manufacture, the US Attorney’s Office said. The other is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, it said.

The rifle belongs to the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution. It was on loan to the Valley Forge State Park Museum when it was stolen. Back in 2019, it was on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

According to the museum, Orter made rifles for the American Revolution in his workshop in the Lehigh Valley, north of Philadelphia, which was a center for rifle making.

Scott Stephenson, the museum’s president and chief executive, said the “rare rifle” displays exemplary early American artistry and is a reminder that courage and sacrifice were necessary to secure American independence. a statement those days.

The Inquirer reported at the time that when the rifle was stolen, a crowbar or similar tool was used to remove the metal bar, causing the top of the glass to slip. A Boy Scout on tour later noticed that the case was empty.

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