They auctioned off the Bernard Welch collection at C.G. Sloan & Co. yesterday: everything from handcuffs to Hummel figurines.
Fresh from the unclaimed contraband of the convicted thief and murderer came burglary tools and a Spiro Agnew wristwatch; sapphire necklaces, a mink coat and a four-ounce lump of gold.
"Two Bavarian porcelain teacups with portraits of Napoleon and Josephine," sang auctioneer Jack Gallogly. "I guess he didn't have time to steal the saucers." The cups alone brought $17.50.
"Fifty-five dollars for a decapitated figurine?" he said, gaveling away a piece of porcelain. "Knock the heads off some more."
The auctioned items were the last of an estimated $4 million in stolen goods seized by Fairfax County police from Welch's McLean home at the time of his arrest in December 1980 for the murder of Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam. More than 7,000 burglary victims had sorted through a year-long police display of silver, jewelry, porcelain and other valuables and claimed what they could find of their property.
Attorney Robert J. Freda, however, went several steps further. Discovering about 60 items taken from his home in a $10,000 burglary in November 1980, he immediately filed suit against Welch in U.S. District Court to get compensation for the rest.
A jury last May awarded him a $125,000 judgment, including $25,000 in compensation and $100,000 in punitive damages. Though other claims have been filed against Welch, including an $81 million suit by Halberstam's widow and $24 million in tax liens by the Internal Revenue Service, Freda moved fastest to seize by court order Welch's most accessible assets--the unclaimed stolen goods. Yesterday, Sloan's acted as a court agent, liquidating the property to satisfy Freda's judgment. Freda didn't expect to get much.
Despite police and news reports of $1 million in unclaimed goods, Sloan Vice President Stephanie Kenyon described the property as "more interesting than valuable" and estimated before the auction it would net "only about $15,000--maybe $20,000 if people lose their heads."
They did. Four hours later, Sloan's had gaveled in $34,700, and even the dealers were wincing at how much they'd paid.
"I get emotional at these things. What can I say?" said Maurice Silverman, owner of Silverman Galleries in Old Town Alexandria. "I'm buying to build up my stock of antique jewelry so I'm paying top dollar. Maybe too top. I don't know."
Silverman acknowledged that the Welch connection lent an unusual interest to the auction but said he wasn't certain he would mention it to any clients.
"They might be more likely to buy something," he said, "but then they might try to claim it's theirs."
Dealers came from far and near for the auction, which was advertised to Sloan's mailing list of 20,000 prospective customers and announced at a catalogue sale at the auction gallery last week.
Joe Becker flew in from Pinehurst, N.J., for the auction and went away with 12 pairs of Japanese-made handcuffs, complete with keys. D.H. Francoise of Alexandria bought implements listed on the catalogue sheet as "burglary paraphernalia." Herbert Walge of Staunton, Va., paid $17.50 for a Spiro Agnew wristwatch.
Whether any items had been Welch's own property is not known since he is serving prison sentences totaling 143 years in Marion, Ill.