Royal B.C. Museum recovers stolen pieces of B.C. history

Local News

It wasn’t quite like the well-executed heists people have come accustomed to seeing in Hollywood action films such as Ocean’s Eleven or The Thomas Crown Affair. There were no Brad Pitts or George Clooneys in Victoria on Jan. 3. No lasers were out-maneuvered, and no security guards were bound against their will. The Royal B.C. Museum did, however, fall victim to thievery.

A collection of eight gold pocket watches was stolen from a locked glass case on the museum’s third floor. The theft occurred during the Royal B.C. Museum’s admission-by-donation month, which is intended to encourage both Victorians and tourists to enjoy the museum.

In terms of B.C. history, one stolen watch was of particular importance. In 1907, escaped stagecoach robber Bill Miner, also known by the alias “the gentleman bandit,” left behind one of the stolen watches after his escape from a Vancouver penitentiary. Miner was portrayed in the 1982 film The Grey Fox.

Bill Miner was known to be somewhat of a folk hero in Western Canada. The newly built CPR railway was unpopular among many British Columbians at the time. When stories leaked of notorious American stagecoach robbers leaving the rich to fend for themselves, some sympathized with the criminal, viewing him as a Robin Hood of sorts.

The watches themselves were not of great monetary value, according to Royal B.C. Museum curators; however, due to the historical significance of the watches, the museum was intent on having them found.

Thanks to the detective work of the Victoria Police Department, all eight watches were found and returned within a week of being stolen. According to police, it was a crime of opportunity. Using fingerprints lifted from the glass case, police cross-referenced a criminal database. They got a match, but still needed to find the suspects.

“Once we got that hit, it was game on, and we were on their trail,” said Const. Mike Russell to the Alberni Valley News.

Police were able to track down the thieves and make two arrests. Brian Gerald Holt, 44, of Port Alberni who remains in police custody, faces pending charges of theft over $5  000, which could result in a prison sentence of up to five years. His accomplice, Stacy Croft, 29, also of Port Alberni, faces the same indictment and is to appear in court at a later date.