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Stolen Gun Taken in 1968 Mercer Island Burglary Found - in Tennessee

The antique pistol, one of four stolen from a home in Mercer Vista, turned up after an alert in a federal stolen firearms database interrupted a sale at a Tennessee pawn shop

As handguns go, the .41 caliber Remington Derringer pistol stolen during a Mercer Island home burglary on SE 63rd Street was considered an antique even in 1968, at the time it was stolen.

But after nearly 45 years, police in Tennessee recovered the stolen weapon and sent it back to Mercer Island, illustrating both how effective the federal database is in stolen weapons once they are found — and how effective the black market for firearms is in keeping them undetected.

On March 8, 1968, a Mercer Island husband and wife in their late 40s decided to catch a movie after work, according to a police report, instead of returning straight to their Mercer Vista home on SE 63rd Street (Police have asked Mercer Island Patch to withhold identifying the original victims).

"Planet of the Apes" was likely showing at the Coliseum Theatre in downtown Seattle. And their late return home at around 9 p.m. — breaking their routine, noted police — allowed unknown burglars to scour the home for valuables, including the man's extensive collection of firearms.

According to a Mercer Island Police report of the incident, about $500-worth of goods and cash were stolen, including four pistols kept in the master bedroom closet: a fully-loaded Smith & Wesson .38 special in a holster, a fully-loaded Colt .25 automatic and two antique Remington Derringer two-shot pistols. Police found footprints in the garden at the back of the house leading to a living room window, which was pried open. The burglar left a number of home electronics, silverware and other valuables undisturbed.

Fast-forward to 2013. Mercer Island Police Commander Leslie Burns said police records staff received a "hit confirmation" on a stolen gun from a 1968 burglary on Jan. 2, 2013.  

An unidentified man had brought the stolen pistol into a pawn shop in Cleveland, Tennessee to sell it. A sales clerk at the pawn shop,  Posey's Gun and Pawn, ran the serial number, which generated a warning from the NCIC database showing it was stolen, according to Cleveland Police Lt. Robert Harbison.

"It's pretty odd that we recover them after that period of time," he said. "That's as far back as I can remember."

When local police officers asked the man how he got it, he claimed to have bought the gun in 2012 at a Georgia flea market for $400. Police found his pleas of innocence plausible, and ended their questioning. But any additional details beyond how the gun came to that small city of 53,000 halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville were a mystery.

"He could be making the story up — we couldn't be sure," Harbison said. "(We) didn't find any reason to not believe him … But from 1968 until 2012, I can't really tell you where the gun was."

Any time a gun or serious weapon is reported stolen, it is entered into a National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a national intelligence database. The gun remains registered in the system until it is found.  

"This is proof "the system" works, as the stolen gun remained in the system all of these years, up to the point we were notified it had been recovered," Burns said.

Mercer Island Police received the recovered Remington Derringer via UPS on July 8, 2013 from the Cleveland, TN Police Department.  

Police records staff discovered the husband and wife — the original victims and rightful owners of the antique handgun — have since passed away.

The pistol has since been placed into the MIPD Property/Evidence lockup, and is tagged and currently awaiting eventual destruction.

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