The antique violin, handcrafted in the 19th century by French master Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, had been in Willem van Eeghen's family for more than 100 years. Six weeks ago a nighttime intruder stole it from his Dupont Circle apartment.
"I felt like part of my character had been taken away," van Eeghen, a visiting Dutch student, said yesterday. The stolen violin appeared destined to become just another statistic in the record of crime in urban America: more than 1,000 burglaries occur each month in the District of Columbia, and in less than half the cases is any property recovered and returned to the victim.
Two days ago, van Eeghen got the violin back.
Police, going through pawnbroker reports, recovered the instrument and arrested a 28-year-old woman, Janice Brice, of 1850 Alabama Ave. SE, who said she had bought the violin from a man on the street. She was charged with receiving stolen property. The violin, which van Eeghen says is valued at $20,000, had been pawned for $30, police said.
"He is lucky, very, very lucky," police spokesman Lt. Hiram Brewton said yesterday. More often than not, he said, stolen property falls into the hands of people seeking bargains or dishonest pawnbrokers, and is never recovered.
The violin disappeared in the predawn hours of July 3, when van Eeghen said, he was awakened by the phone call of a neighbor, who had seen a ladder outside his living-room window. At that moment, van Eeghen recalled yesterday, he heard "running footsteps." When he turned on the lights, the intruder was gone and the violin, which had been in a corner of the bedroom where he was sleeping, was gone.
In quick order van Eeghen, a 25-year-old summer intern at the International Monetary Fund, called police and his family in Holland. The violin had been in his family for four generations and was willed to him three years ago upon the death of his grandfather. "I cannot remember being without my violin since getting it three years ago," van Eeghen said yesterday. "I have to have it near me."
In the weeks it was missing, he said he went each day to pawnbrokers and music stores, hoping it would turn up.
"I never lost hope that it would be returned," he said, "but I worried about the condition it would be returned in." The violin was recovered intact, with the bow, but had a noticeable scratch on the back side, he said.
At the shop where the violin was located, Sam's Pawnbrokers, 1508 14th St. NW, an employe who declined to give his name said yesterday that the store apparently was out the $30 used to buy the violin. "We will get our reward in heaven," the employe said.