A year after Fairfax County police displayed the stolen goods confiscated from the home of Bernard C. Welch Jr., more than $1 million worth of it remains crated and unclaimed at police headquarters.
About 900 people are fighting over ownership of an additional 740 pieces of jewelry and silver. The Fairfax attorney said it will take a court order to decide who owns the disputed property and what to do with those items that haven't been claimed. County and state officials also are squabbling over which jurisdiction should get the money from the eventual public sale of unclaimed items.
Welch, 40, was convicted of murdering Washington cardiologist Michael Halberstam last December while Welch was burglarizing the doctor's house. Welch is serving 143 years in prison for the murder and other criminal convictions. Prosecutors in Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax counties and Alexandria are waiting to try Welch on more than 40 other charges ranging from rape to burglary.
Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service and the Virginia Department of Taxation are waiting to collect on dozens of liens and unpaid taxes from the Welch estate. After seven months on the market, the massive Welch house in an exclusive Great Falls neighborhood is still unsold.
"This case could go on indefinitely," said Robert C. Lincoln, a Fairfax police officer in charge of the evidence. He said the 3,140 claimed and unclaimed pieces of jewelry, gold bars, silverware and other valuables are a headache for the department.
Although Fairfax police confined public viewing of the stolen items to a one-time showing last December, police said they have been deluged with continuing inquiries.
"I would be grateful if just one day would go by without phone calls on it," said police spokesman Warren Carmichael. He said only a handful of people who could prove that they have been burglarized and have reason to suspect Welch as the culprit have been allowed to view the material since the public showing.
The valuables were left over after an estimated 7,000 Washington-area burglary victims trooped through a display room filled with 8,259 stolen items valued at $4 million. Slightly more than half of the property was identified and returned to its owners, said Fairfax police officer Stephen D. Danzig.
Despite elaborate screening procedures, police have been suspicious of some people filing claims. "Police say they had people come into the viewing who make no claims but come back several days later and suddenly make a claim," said Assistant County Attorney Robert M. Ross.
Ross said his office plans to file documents in Fairfax Circuit Court within the next 10 days asking the court to establish a procedure for deciding conflicting claims. He said the courts eventually may have to decide how to dispose of unclaimed material, which usually is sold at public auction.
The state and county are arguing over who should get the money from the sale, Ross said. The property is conservatively estimated at $1 million. Most of the unclaimed property includes nondescript gold chains, look-alike pearl necklaces, mass manufactured silverware sets and gold and silver that had been melted into indistinguishable bars.
Washington police auctioned their unclaimed Welch loot in October. That property had been confiscated from yet another Welch house in Duluth, Minn., and was worth only a fraction of the amount of the Fairfax cache, said Edward Reddick, chief of the District police property division.
The $4 million in loot seized from Welch's house in Great Falls was twice the amount recovered from all other burglaries in the county in 1980. Police estimate the property was taken during 300 burglaries throughout the Washington area during a six-month period.
Because most of the burglaries occurred shortly before the property was recovered, few of the victims had received returns on insurance claims, Danzig said. In cases where claims had been paid already, the stolen items were turned over to the insurance companies by the police department. Danzig said most of the companies gave victims a chance to return their money to the insurers in return for the recovered items.
A substantial number of recovered items are being held by police in various jurisdictions as evidence in trials, and Fairfax police said it could be years before some victims get back their stolen goods.
Fairfax real estate saleswoman Faye S. Drennen has been trying since May to sell Welch's house at 411 Chesapeake Dr. The asking price for the house, which includes an indoor swimming pool, is $970,000 -- down from its original $1.3 million. Drennen said she is considering lowering the price again.