Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hello? Please ignore the alarms.

Smart crook, dumb security.
One of the items stolen is depicted.

Fake phone call fooled UBC security in museum heist, police sources say

Security guards at the museum were fooled by a phone call telling them to ignore alarms the night of the heist, police sources told CBC News. (CBC)

An experienced jewelry thief may have hoodwinked the University of British Columbia's campus security by telling them to ignore security alarms on the night of last month's multi-million dollar heist at the Museum of Anthropology, CBC News has learned.

The prime suspect and possible mastermind of one of the biggest art heists in Canadian history is a Vancouver thief who specializes in hitting high-end jewelry stores by neutralizing their sophisticated security systems, police sources have told the CBC.

The suspect was out of jail the night the museum break-in occurred on the UBC campus near Vancouver, and the techniques used in that heist fit his normal operating procedure, the sources said.Some security cameras at the Museum of Anthropology were turned off the night of the heist, sources have told CBC News. (CBC)

Four hours before the break-in on May 23, two or three key surveillance cameras at the Museum of Anthropology mysteriously went off-line.

Around the same time, a caller claiming to be from the alarm company phoned campus security, telling them there was a problem with the system and to ignore any alarms that might go off.
Campus security fell for the ruse and ignored an automated computer alert sent to them, police sources told CBC News.

Meanwhile surveillance cameras that were still operating captured poor pictures of what was going on inside the museum because of a policy to turn the lights off at night.This gold box by Bill Reid with a sculpted eagle on top was one of 15 art objects stolen from the UBC museum overnight Friday. (CBC)

Then, as the lone guard working overnight in the museum that night left for a smoke break, the thief or thieves broke in, wearing gas masks and spraying bear spray to slow down anyone who might stumble across them.

Twelve gold artworks worth $2 million by the Haida artist Bill Reid, plus three gold-plated Mexican Zapotec necklaces, vanished that night and have not been seen since.

Publicly, RCMP investigators are saying little, other than confirming they believe it is likely the thief or thieves and stolen pieces are still in the Vancouver area.

Investigators say they believe the items are too hot to move or melt down, and sources told the CBC the investigation is focusing on some Vancouver goldsmiths known to have handled stolen jewelry in the past.UBC's Museum of Anthropology is part of the university's Point Grey campus west of Vancouver. (CBC)

Meanwhile, the RCMP are also hoping an anonymous tipster who left some tantalizing information will call them back again.

In addition, police have said the museum's insurance company has boosted the current $50,000 reward substantially but will not say by how much.

The raw value of the gold in the jewelry is estimated to be only $15,000.