A 310-year-old violin worth approximately $320,000 has been returned to its owner, prompting police to praise the man who initially took the musical instrument.
After a long day of recording at the famous Abbey Road studios in London, musician Stephen Morris left the 1709 David Tecchler violin on a train last month, prompting a nationwide plea for its return. When CCTV images of the man who picked up the violin were released, officials were ready to treat him as a suspect who had stolen the violin.
Morris described the violin as a “piece of history.”
“It’s devastating to lose it and quite apart from its value, it’s my livelihood,” he told BBC News. “I was really only its custodian–one of many people who have played it–and I had hoped to pass it on to another violinist eventually.”
After Morris’ appeal was published, the man who picked up the violin contacted Morris via Twitter—but he was nervous that he’d get in trouble and instead said he recognized the person in the CCTV images.
“I recognise the person in the picture,” read the message. “I think it may be somebody I know—I’d like to be of help. I know what it’s like to leave valuables on a train.”
Morris turned to his friend, Former Scotland Yard Detective Mike Pannett, for help.
“It was quite obvious to me and the detectives [at the BTP] that whoever had this violin was desperate to get it back but was panicking because they didn’t want to get into trouble,” Pannett told The Guardian.
“I knew from my experience that we weren’t dealing with a hardened criminal. We were dealing with somebody who had initially made a bit of a mistake […] and had panicked.”
Two days of negotiations later, the man who picked up the violin—who called himself “Gene”—came through with the missing instrument.
“There was no ransom, we just appealed to his better nature. It was a combination of reassurance and human decency that this was a serious piece of history and that we wanted it back,” Pannett said.
The violin drop-off happened at a car park after 10pm. Several officers were watching undercover in case anything went awry. But happily, the violin was returned without issue, and everyone could breathe easy.
“You could tell by the expression on this young man’s face when he walked up–he had the biggest smile on his face,” said Pannett. “He knew he’d done the right thing and the pressure had come off and he could carry on with his life. That expression said it all.”
“I would congratulate him. He has done the right thing and set a great example to anyone else who ever finds himself in that position.”
Morris, who recently played “Amazing Grace” to celebrate the return of his violin, was also relieved:
“It couldn’t have ended in a happier way.”