George Hobe's stolen piece of antique artwork was amazingly found in Lancaster. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

by Lou Mancinelli

It took local storeowners and detectives less than three weeks to recover an item worth more than $5,800 that had been stolen in mid-February from George T. Hobe Fine Art, 8407 Germantown Ave., according to store owner George Hobe.

The suspected perpetrator has since been arrested and charged with theft and related crimes, according to a source in the Northwest Detective Division. (A detective would not disclose the suspect’s name, and the man has had so many different addresses, the detective couldn’t say where he was from.) The value of the stolen item makes the charge a felony.

The suspect appeared to have two female accomplices, but the level of their involvement was still undetermined when this interview was conducted, according to the detective.

According to Hobe, the day after Valentine’s Day, a couple came into his store, perused the merchandise and asked a lot of questions. Hobe said the couple’s behavior prompted him to ask what they did for a living.

“Little did I realize this was their first pass through,” he said last week during a telephone interview.

Two days later, on Friday, Feb. 17, 15 minutes before the shop’s 6 p.m. closing time, two girls who appeared to be in their mid-20s came into the store.

They were in the store for 10 minutes and asked a number of questions, apparently serving as a diversion. The girls then formed a human shield between Hobe and the $5,850 bronze erotica piece from the 1920s by the noted Hungarian sculptor Bruno Zach.

“Before I knew what happened, the door closed, they were out the door, and the piece was gone,” said Hobe, a Wyndmoor resident. “I was freaking out. I’m thinking – I owe someone $3,000.”

Hobe, 49, said the finely detailed bronze piece, about 12” long by 6” deep and 5” high, was too awkward to fit under a coat. The piece was consigned to his shop one year ago.

The next day, when Hobe had a cooler head, he called Jerry Schultz, owner of The Antique Gallery, 8523 Germantown Ave. Hobe knew Schultz’ store had a number of surveillance cameras. He told Shultz he’d been robbed and asked Schultz if he could review his cameras and see if he could isolate an image of the perpetrators.

Hobe asked Schultz to look for a black couple, probably in their late 40s with a deep brown complexion. The man was tall with short hair and wore thin black-rimmed glasses. The woman was about 5’6’’ and wore a green hooded sweatshirt.

An employee of Schultz’s was able to identify the couple on the video, freeze the frame and print a picture. The video also revealed that the couple had stolen a silver-plated serving tray from Schultz.

Hobe in turn circulated a number of 8” by 10” photos to local galleries. Meanwhile, police had initially inaccurately recorded in their report the value of the stolen Zach piece to be $50. When Hobe contacted them and corrected the amount to be more than $5,000, detectives at the Northwest Division became more interested, he said.

But before police had to do much detective work, Hobe ran into an antiques dealer on the Avenue. Hobe showed the man the photo of the perpetrators, and the dealer recognized the man in the photo. That dealer, in turn, did research of his own. He discovered that the couple was from Philadelphia, and that the man’s mother participated in antique markets in Adamstown, in Lancaster County.

On the first weekend in March, Detective John Schell, given the above leads orchestrated by local antique dealers, drove to Lancaster County. There, he found the stolen piece. He returned it to Hobe’s store on Monday morning, March 7.

“A lot of times crimes are committed with only one or two degrees of separation from the victim,” said Detective Schell last week during a telephone interview. “With things like art and antiques, it usually takes someone who knows the business a little bit to be able to unload the merchandise.”

Schell said the dealers in Lancaster County willingly cooperated.

“Being in the industry, they are sensitive to the issues of stolen goods,” he said.