17 Institutions Reclaim Stolen Artifacts in Historic FBI Investigation

Members of the investigation and prosecution teamsMembers of the investigation and prosecution teams look on as representatives from the victim institutions sign repatriation documents, formally accepting custody of their recovered artifacts. (Submitted Images)

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Dozens of artifacts stolen during the 1970s have been recovered and returned to the owning institutions, announced Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division; Jacqueline Romero, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; and Kevin Steele, Montgomery County (PA) District Attorney.

At a ceremony held at Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution on Monday morning, the FBI’s Art Crime Team and its law enforcement partners repatriated 50 items — the oldest dating back to the French and Indian War — belonging to 17 institutions located in five different states.

The artifacts returned to their owning institutions this morning included an 1847 Mississippi rifle stolen from a Mississippi museum; a World War II battlefield pickup pistol belonging to General Omar Bradley, stolen from the U.S. Army War College Museum; and 19th century Pennsylvania rifles, stolen from Pennsylvania museums.

Recovered rifles
Recovered rifles are transported to the repatriation ceremony.

In December 2021, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania indicted Michael Corbett of Newark, Delaware, for possession of those firearms and other items stolen from museums in the 1970s.

In August 2022, Corbett pleaded guilty to the possession of stolen items transported interstate, and, in accordance with his plea agreement, turned over to the government additional stolen firearms to which he had access.

Colt Whitneyville Walker revolver
Connecticut State Troopers are escorting the rare Colt Whitneyville Walker revolver (bottom row with CT tag) back to its home state. A powderhorn (center right) dating to the French and Indian War was stolen from a Belchertown, Massachusetts, museum in the 1970s.

Those included a Colt Whitneyville Walker revolver stolen from the Connecticut State Library; an Omar Bradley presentation pistol stolen from the U.S. Army War College Museum; a French and Indian War-era powderhorn stolen from a Belchertown, Massachusetts, museum; and a number of 18th century English and Scottish pistols stolen from the Valley Forge Historical Society Museum, all going back to their rightful owners today.

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“Today’s repatriation has been a long time coming, with the FBI and our law enforcement partners working together toward this day for years,” said Maguire. “We’re honored to help return these amazing artifacts to their rightful owners, from whom they were stolen so many decades ago. These are artifacts that helped write our national story, with some even predating the country’s birth, and their long absence from public view — hidden away where no one could see or learn from them — was a loss both to society and the historic record. It is a privilege for all of us to be able to work together to make history right again.”

recovered firearms
Dr. Scott Stephenson, President of Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution, looks at recovered firearms, some of which were featured in a book he’s had since childhood.

“It is a rare privilege to be a part of today’s repatriation ceremony, returning stolen items to victims and, at the same time, returning important pieces of American history to the public,” said Romero. “Many of these pieces have special meaning to their local area. No monetary value in the marketplace can compare to their historical significance. A new part of the story for these items is the dedication and incredible teamwork from cultural institutions, private citizens, and law enforcement agencies, a striking example of the power of working together.”

“It’s hard to believe that these historic firearms and other artifacts were brazenly stolen so long ago and then secreted away and hidden for decades,” said Steele. “But thanks to the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement efforts by the Upper Merion Police, the FBI’s Art Crime Team, and our other federal partners, including the successful prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, these significant historic items are going home, back to the museums that can properly care for them and share their history with the American people. I am proud to be part of this repatriation ceremony.”

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Maguire and Romero thanked the Upper Merion Township Police Department and Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for their work on the investigation. They also credited Assistant United States Attorney K.T. Newton and the FBI Philadelphia Art Crime Team for their efforts in this matter and thanked the staff of the Museum of the American Revolution for their continued assistance.

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