There were solid gold ingots worth between $10,000 and $11,000, a 1971 Hummel plate worth $1,200, three rings adorned with huge ruby and emerald gems valued at more than $10,000 apiece, antique dolls from Germany, Mexico, China, India, Africa, Denmark and Italy, to name but a few items.
Yesterday, news media representatives were allowed to view and photograph for the first time these and thousands of other allegedly stolen goods, reportedly worth $4 million, that were confiscated last weekend from the Great Falls home of Bernard Charles Welch Jr., the man police call a veritable one-man crime wave and accused killer of Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam.
It took 472 man-hours and 6 days just to count, tag and describe the allegedly stolen property on 400 handwritten, legal-sized sheets of paper, according to Fairfax County police Lt. Stephen Danzig.
The incredible array of goods took up half a hallway and two large rooms of the property section at Fairfax County police headquarters in what search warrant affidavits called the "fruits of the crime of burglaries from Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Md."
Had it not been for an ever-present phalanx of officers and detectives, the whole scene could have been mistaken for a warehouse at the Smithsonian Institution. Although there were 3,000 tagged groups of goods, some of those tags covered up to 50 separate items, making it impossible to fully tally the total number of objects, according to police spokeswoman Carolyn Burns.
But the most stunning estimate of all, one that assessed the enormity of the alleged thefts, involved the length of time police believe it took to steal the goods.
"We feel that this property was probably taken in a period of only about three or four months," Danzig said. How many burglaries may be solved by the discovery won't be known for some time, police said.
But authorities will get some idea beginning at 9 a.m. today at the Fairfax County police department's headquarters, at 10600 Page Ave. in Fairfax City, when the public will be allowed to examine goods to see if they can identify items stolen from their homes.
The goods will be on display from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Monday and from noon to 9 p.m. tomorrow. Citizens who positively identify goods as their own will not be allowed to take them, but will be asked to give police the tag numbers for future reference, according to police spokesman Warren Carmichael.
A small army of reporters representing Life, People, and Newsweek magazines, along with journalists from Washington news organizations had to wait in line to see the goods as police escorted them to the basement display area in groups of three and four.
"It's worth it [the wait] just to drool at what's down there," one man said.
There were antique Prussian water pitchers; cloisonne vases; full-length sable, mink and leopard coats; a seemingly endless array of sterling silverware, watches, broaches, pins and necklaces; ornate cocaine and snuff bottles with their own spoons; Oriental ivory, porcelain, marble and jade bottles.
Along with some of the more valuable objects confiscated were less expensive items like a "Diamond Eye" jewel device that measures the size of diamonds by conductivity, an "Honored Guest" badge from the 1976 Democratic National Convention, a Mickey Mouse telephone, even a pair of smelters used to melt down gold and silver.
Fbi agents measured diamonds, and Washington-area antique experts and collectors like Northern Virginia's Nancy Burkley helped police assess the value and authenticity of the goods. Those experts were probably the only people who seemed unimpressed by the goods.
"There wasn't much high-powered jewelry [meaning jewelry worth $20,000 to $30,000]," said Great Falls gemologist Ed Cutshall. "This guy wasn't elegant with his taste. It was quantity rather than quality."
It was nonetheless apparent that Welch had extensively studied valuable objects. Among the confiscated items were reference books on old silver and paper money and the "Complete Antique Price List" by Kovel.
Meanwhile, in Washington, an unidentified woman, described as being in the vicinity of Battery Place NW a week ago yesterday, the same day that Halberstam was slain at his Northwest Washington home, positively picked Welch out of police lineup, informed sources said. It was not immediately known what the woman's connection with the case is.
The mystery witness was joined at the lineup held at D.C. police headquarters by Elliott Jones, Halbestam's widow, who was not asked to visually identify Welch, but instead listened to the voices of nine or 10 men in the lineup repeat a death threat she overheard issued to her husband by the intruder in their home moments before he was shot.
Sources said that Jones listened to each man say the threat three times before she narrowed her choice to three or four of the voices which she said resembled the one she heard on Dec. 5. Welch's voice was among the several she picked out, sources said. She was not asked to further narrow her selection.
Prosecutors and police refused to identify the mystery witness.
Sources also said yesterday that D.C. police believe that the same night Halberstam was killed, Welch may have been involved in three burglaries in the general vicinity of the slaying. In the burglaries, more than $10,000 in jewelry and silver was reported stolen at residences located on MacArthur Boulevard and Loughboro Road NW.