Wednesday, October 24, 2012
A federal sentencing this week ends what police call one of the city's largest burglary rings ever. Two men were sentenced for being the ringleaders of a years-long fencing operation in Wichita.
But the story isn't just the burglary ring. It's the crimes that affected people like Chelley Graves, a young lady who had her priceless violin stolen as part of the crimes.
One of the men, 23 year-old Jordan Smith, sold the violin in a Wichita parking lot for a mere $75.00. That man put it on the Internet and sold it to a man in Monroe, Wisconsin. From there, it was sold to a couple in Marietta, Georgia. They sold it to a man who hand delivered it through Los Angeles International Airport to his home in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Chelley Graves was devastated when she came home on January 30, 2011, to find her home had been broken into. An accomplished concert violinist, Graves quickly noticed her Zeta Strados Modern electric violin was gone.
"My heart sank because I knew I would probably never see it again," Graves said.
The instrument was valued at $2,500, but it was priceless to her since her parents gave it to her as a gift.
"Several months later, the detectives had done a fine job tracking all the places this violin had been," Graves explained. "It was amazing. It's been to more states and crossed boundaries more than I have, I think."
Two of those tenacious detectives are Casey Slaughter and Danny Farlow. They had been working on hundreds of burglary cases they knew were connected.
"As we started looking through old burglary cases, we saw this one and it was pretty unique," Detective Slaughter said. "Most people don't have violins laying around the house. We found a burglary that had occurred on January 30th, 2011, where three violins were taken."
It was through a blurry picture found on Jordan Smith's computer that Chelley Graves identified her precious violin. The reason? Her makeup smudge on the chin plate.
"I feel really bad for them because I don't think they know any better than to steal from other people and what that does to people when they take things, very personal things," Graves said.
Jordan Smith was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison as the leader of the burglary ring. His buddy, Thomas Griffin, Junior, got five years. They pleaded guilty earlier this year and admitted there were 36 victims and more than $115,000 in stolen property. The detectives say, however, in reality there were hundreds of crimes that will remain unsolved.
Slaughter and Farlow say cracking the case took hundreds of hours and much teamwork between agencies.
"There were so many people involved in a project like this and you look at it all together and it comes together there at the 11th hour and you say "Wow, we really did something and it really helped this community a lot.."
Unfortunately, Graves will likely never get her violin back. Slaughter and Farlow were able to make contact with the man who has the violin in Israel, but so far, he has not been willing to return it. None of the parties, except Jordan Smith, knew the instrument was stolen when they purchased it.