UBC breathes sigh of relief as some stolen Bill Reid works recovered

Some feared gold pieces stolen from UBC’s Museum of Anthropology were melted down

At least some of the Bill Reid art treasures stolen last month in a heist from a University of British Columbia museum have been recovered, RCMP said Monday, news that came as a relief to UBC officials who had feared the pieces might be melted down for their gold.

Const. Annie Linteau confirmed some of the 15 items — 12 by the legendary Haida artist and three other Mexican works — were seized as search warrants were executed in the Lower Mainland, but she didn’t say how many. “I can say that we’ve recovered artwork in relation to this investigation,” Linteau said in a telephone interview. “We’re very pleased with what it is that we’ve recovered.”

Immediately after the May 24 heist at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, the museum raised concerns the pieces — mostly gold jewellery worth an estimated $2 million — might be melted down.

University spokesman Scott Macrae said the RCMP have told the museum all of the pieces were found intact. “That’s very good news for us. We’re just waiting to see which items they are, and if indeed it represents all of the items or just some,” said Macrae. “It’s a huge sense of relief to know that at least the items recovered were not melted down.”

Theories about the robbery have ranged from local crooks looking for raw gold — worth a paltry $15,000 — to a heist planned by international art thieves. The RCMP notified police agencies around the world through Interpol.

But last week investigators said they believed the robbery had local roots, suggesting whoever stole the art was looking to sell it to “criminal associates.”

Police were expected to release more details in the coming days.

Macrae said UBC, which had offered a $50,000 reward for the return of the art, was eager to find out which pieces were found, and hoped to get them back into a now-empty case in the museum’s Bill Reid exhibit as soon possible. “You have to remember that a number of people at the Museum of Anthropology both knew and worked with Bill Reid, so to see these items recovered is really just terrific news,” he said.

Reid was born in Victoria and died in 1998. His most famous work is a sculpture titled the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, which can be seen at the international terminal at Vancouver International Airport, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, and on the $20 bill.

There was speculation that the art recovery may be linked to a police raid on a quiet Burnaby street on Sunday. Things were quiet Monday at the two-storey house that a day earlier, neighbours said, was surrounded by police and fire trucks. Camile MacDonald, who shares a back lane with the house, said she came home Sunday evening to see officers standing on the deck looking into the backyard pool, which was empty Monday.

“They were there for quite a while,” said MacDonald, a 20-year-old student. “Lots of people in their backyard, taking photographs looking down, like into where their pool was.”

On Monday, a man and woman in the backyard, ran into the home to avoid reporters outside.

Police have not released any details of the search.

-with a report from CP