When Fairfax County Police Lt. Stephen Danzig returned to work Monday from a weekend in Solomons, Md., he expected a routine day identifying and cataloguing items confiscated over the weekend at a home in the county.
No sweat, he thought, just routine stuff.
Then someone showed him the goods, and 18-foot-long truck full of them, and told him of Bernard Charles Welch, the alleged Washington superthief.
"I was totally amazed," said Danzig when he saw 51 boxes -- some four feet deep -- filled to brimming with suspected stolen goods. "Nothing even comes close to this . . . this could be an all-night thing."
Indeed, Fairfax police had to commandeer a truck from the county government when it became aparent that none of their vehicles was large enough to hold all the goods officers seized at Welch's Great Falls home.
It's been "chaos . . . a pure and simple chaotic zoo" at the county police department headquarters since Welch's arrest Saturday for the slaying of prominent Washington cardiologist Dr. Michael Halberstam, according to police spokesman Warren Carmichael.
As local police combed the items recovered in Northern Virginia, another team of officers searched a Duluth, Minn., home Welch owned and reported seizing 61 items valued at a minimum of $50,000. Most of the items were antiques and officers said they also discovered "parts for a smelter to melt down gold and silver."
Police said the suspected Welch may have taken goods from homes in the Washington area and sold them in Minnesota, where he maintained a second home.
More than 400 telephone calls were received by Fairfax County police dispatchers from burglary victims as far away as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Minnesota in the first four hours of the 6:45 a.m. shift yesterday. All were hoping to recover goods that they lost during the last three years.
"We got so backed up with phone calls this morning that we had to start taking numbers and telling people that we would have to call them back," said Sgt. Bill Edmunston.
Officer Stan Ingerski said that most of the telephone calls came from the District and Montgomery County. Said Ingerski: "People were asking about their old wedding rings . . . antique clocks. We've really been deluged."
The department has also weathered an unparalleled storm of media interest as reporters from Life magazine and all of the Washington area news organizations scrambled to get pictures of the confiscated goods, Carmichael said.
We've gotten calls from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national television networks, newspapers in New York state, Minnesota, Indiana . . . even from something called The Pioneer Press in St. Paul. There hasn't been this much media interest since [a woman] broke into the home of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) last year," Carmichael said.
Although the telephone calls, died down as the day wore on, Danzig and eight police officers were still struggling to identify and sort out a small mountain of items from Welch's home.
"It's a staggering task," Danzig said. "We've unpacked 16 boxes. I would estimate there were 2,000 items in those. That leaves us with 35 boxes to unpack by 4 p.m. [Wednesday] afternoon" so that a list can be presented to the Fairfax County Circuit Court to comply with terms of a search warrant the officers used in their seizures.
Each item must be thorougly examined for serial numbers, initials and other identifying characteristics before they will be put on display for citizens this weekend. The goods, including mink coats, German statuettes, and silver items, will be displayed in the police administration building at 10600 Page Ave. in Fairfax City from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Monday, and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday, Ingerski said.
Individuals who are able to identify stolen property will not be allowed to take possession of the property until a later date, police said.
Media representatives were barred from the identification room yesterday simply because there wasn't enough room for them and the police at the same time, the police said.
FBI agent Al Hein said that Federal agents were also on hand with an elaborate, infrared "gem printing" device to identify diamonds and other jewels by their special flaws.
Callers from out of state jurisdictions were being advised yesterday to bring copies of official police reports on their burglaries when they appear to identify stolen property this weekend.
"It's such a unique case," said one officer. "If I was an author, I'd write a book about all this. It's incredible."