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Sunday, September 1, 2013
Every now and then in this paper you find a letter to the editor praising a public servant who did a good job. Deborah Penley could have written one of those letters. Instead, the retired Roanoke schoolteacher called me and asked me to write a column.
Penley lives in Goodview, in Bedford County. One of these days, she’ll open the antique shop in Roanoke she’s been planning for a while. In the meantime, she buys antiques at auctions and stores the stuff in her future shop on Williamson Road near Crossroads Mall. She browses at some other antique sellers, too.
One day in May she was at Happy’s Flea Market, which is in Roanoke County, north of her store-to-be. That’s where she found some of her antique items for sale.
“Someone broke in and stole from me and I didn’t even know it. And I went to Happy’s and saw them,” she said ruefully.
She is singing the praises of Roanoke police, especially Officer Stephen Wasileski, a 10-year veteran who was quickly able to identify a suspect and help her get most of her stuff back.
“The police in Roanoke are good,” Penley told me. “They deserve some kind of compliment.”
Scott Leamon, the police department’s spokesman, was reluctant to say too much about the crime. That’s because the case is still active. He confirmed many of the details related by Penley, who’s not reluctant to talk about it at all.
She was at Happy’s on May 26. As she walked past an antiques stall, an old brass grain separator caught her eye. She had one exactly like it in storage at her place. “It’s pre-industrial age, museum-quality,” Penley said. An instant later she realized it was hers. She said it’s worth $1,200 to $1,500.
Then she noticed the antique Jugendstil mask, which she estimates is worth $1,000. She had one of those at her place, too. And a pair of 19th century brass Italian torchieres, valued at $640. And a Greek brass wall plate with hand-enameled decorations, which she says is worth $227. All hers.
Imagine her sense of deja vu. She probably felt like she was caught somewhere between episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “Antiques Road Show.” The owner of the stall wasn’t in. So Penley went and found a manager at Happy’s.
“I told them there were stolen items in their building. It was my stuff,” she said. Penley called the police. They arrived at about the same time the stall operator did.
Penley had not even been back to her store yet, to see what had happened there. But that didn’t matter. She was able to prove to the stall owner that the items were hers.
One by one, she pointed them out in his stall. Not by coincidence, he had bought all those specific items on the same day from a man and a woman who walked in and traded them for cash. He paid peanuts compared to their actual value, Penley said.
He also had bought three other items of hers that weren’t in the stall that day. One was an Amphora Teplitz vase, made in Austria in the 1800s. Penley said she paid more than $1,560 for that. The others were a pair of Scottish coats of arms, which Penley estimated are worth $700 total.
The stall operator had paid the couple between $50 and $100 each for those items, she said, and had sold them before Penley wandered in that day.
Roanoke police dispatched Wasileski to the scene. During his questioning of the antique stall operator, the man said he’d seen the guy he’d bought Penley’s items from in Happy’s the previous day, selling gold jewelry to another vendor.
In Virginia, you don’t need ID to sell stolen antiques. But jewelry merchants are supposed to ask for that when people walk in off the street to sell jewelry, Leamon confirmed. The gold merchant had the guy’s name and particulars. Wasileski took them down.
Case closed — almost.
The officer turned the information over to Detective Joshua Chandler, who later interviewed the male suspect. According to Penley, the suspect admitted selling Penley’s items to the antique dealer at Happy’s. He denied breaking into her storage place/future antiques shop.
After she left Happy’s, Penley went there to survey the damage. Police believe that the break-in occurred in April.
She found that someone had broken in the back door of the shop, which is in an old house. Besides the items that were missing, the burglars removed the sink from the kitchen. Go figure. They left it in the middle of the living room floor.
“It was like it was a joke,” Penley said. “Like, ‘we took everything but the kitchen sink.’ It was horrible.”
Ha, ha. How clever. The crooks thought they were smart, but instead they were dumb. They didn’t get away with this crime.
Penley got her unsold items back from the Happy’s antiques seller. She did not get any money for the Austrian vase and the Scottish coats of arms. Though she figures she lost more than $2,200 on those items, she was tickled to get the others.
Since then, she’s improved the security at her future antiques shop.
Last week Penley got a call from police, asking if she wanted to press charges against the suspect. The answer was most definitely.
She said she doubts the suspect would have been identified without Wasileski’s expert sleuthing.
“It made me feel good, that if it had to happen, it happened in Roanoke City,” she said.
The police can’t solve every crime. But this time, yea for the folks in blue.
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