SAGA OF A FLUTE'S ADVENTURE

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Dateline: June 1, 2010

The following story is true. We are honored to share this saga of a stolen instrument that - primarily through the hard work and dedication of a number of people - did find its way home again! The persons involved have asked that their names not be shared, but consented to sharing their experience in hopes that it would be encouraging to others who may find themselves in something of the same boat one day. Sometimes it's hard to follow the advice given (not to mention the difficulty when such advice goes against gut instinct!), but this person's experience is testimony to the good sense behind such advice and the good that can come of it. We're delighted and honored to get to share their story with you here. Copyright KBJB 2010. All rights reserved.

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When my son was flying home for Christmas this past December, he was bringing with him his flute to play at our church’s Christmas Eve service. However, halfway home, during a layover, he accidentally left it in a men’s restroom in the terminal; and when he went back to get it, it was gone. A flight attendant told him that a man had just tried to hand the flute to her but that she had been unable to take it from him because she was about to board a flight. Instead, she had directed the man to turn it in to the service desk a few gates down. From that point on, my son and I were unable to discover what happened to the flute, as the employees at the service desk repeatedly denied having seen the man or the flute. Afterward, because we strongly believed that the flute was actually somewhere in the airport, we concentrated on contacting airport and airline authorities, including Lost and Found and the airport police precinct, who gave us a case number assigned to an investigator. At that time, though, the case was considered only a “loss,” not a theft.

As the weeks and months elapsed, however, it became apparent that the flute had more than likely been stolen, so I launched my own investigation, contacting the company that had manufactured the flute, eBay sellers, and a music store near the airport where the flute had disappeared, among many others. Unfortunately, since we did not have the serial number of the flute and could not find it, we were looking for one particular piece of straw in a gargantuan haystack and knew the flute could be anywhere in the world. We even contacted the man who had sold us the flute via eBay in 2004, to see if he still had the serial number. When he didn’t respond, even more discouraged, we decided to go ahead and file a claim with our insurance company who settled and sent us a check. We did not, however, cash or deposit that check because first, I had the strangest feeling that we shouldn’t cash it yet; and second, a number of remarkable events immediately followed): Only a couple of days after the check arrived, the original seller unexpectedly sent me an email with the serial number of my son’s flute, apologizing for having taken so long to find it. (He had been looking diligently for weeks.)

Now armed with the serial number, I contacted everyone who had previously tried to help us, including the airport police, and gave each one the newly-retrieved serial number. Importantly, I spoke to a detective who not only took down the serial number of the flute but also listened carefully to my entire story and asked me questions, after which he promised to look into the matter. Later that day, I discovered that someone had contacted the manufacturer of the flute via email from a person who had purchased a flute with that serial number—the same number of my son’s flute! I subsequently gave this new information to the airport detective, who took down this person’s email address and listened to how I had acquired it, promising to get back in touch with me, which, to my surprise, he did, the next morning. By that time, I had run some internet searches myself and discovered who this person was, where they were located, and their address and telephone number.

The next morning, when the detective called me again and I gave him all the additional information, he called this person, who denied knowing the serial number of the flute (saying it had been purchased via eBay from an unknown seller from another country), and denied having had any contact with the flute’s manufacturer. Needless to say, I was both crushed and furious, with no idea what to do next, but I did not know until later that the detective had told this person to get an attorney. He informed me later that same day that the person in possession of my son’s flute had called back and seemed to be having misgivings—even more so after being threatened with jail. I was amazed at this turn of events, especially since the detective had warned me that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove that this person actually did have my son’s flute—much less to get it back from them. In the meantime, between his two calls to me that day, I acquired a PDF copy of that person’s inquiry, including the serial number, about the flute, so I felt that we now had undeniable “evidence” that this person did indeed have my son’s flute. Of course, during our second contact that day, I gave this information to the detective, who warned me not to do anything or contact anyone until I heard from him again. I agreed (although I was sorely tempted to email and/or call this person myself), and am so glad I heeded the advice because, by the third day, the person with the flute had called the detective again, having decided to return the flute and promising to send it to the airport police precinct.

Apparently, after being threatened with jail, this person contacted eBay, through whom the flute had been purchased, and told them that the flute had been stolen. eBay, in turn, refunded the money and then contacted the seller (allegedly in another country), who told eBay he/she had purchased the flute in a pawn shop in the city where the airport was located. What happened to that seller is unknown.

Finally, I received the news from the detective that the airport police had the flute. Our next problem was how to retrieve it from them. Luckily, I have a friend in that area who happened to be heading our way (hundreds of miles) the following day, to attend our high school reunion about 80 miles north of where I live. Happily for me, she agreed to pick it up and give it to me there. The day she picked it up was four months to the day that the flute disappeared.

As of right now, we still do not know who took the flute from the airport. The detective assured me that he was working on getting a warrant to serve the pawn shop that bought it. My guess is that it was an airport employee who stole it, but as of this writing I still do not know.

During this incredible drama, I learned six important lessons:

  • 1. Record and save the serial number of all musical instruments immediately after purchasing them.
  • 2. Register immediately each instrument and its serial number with the company who made it.
  • 3. Make certain the instrument and/or its case is/are tagged with the owner’s name and address, perhaps in more than one place. (Much to my displeasure, my son’s flute case had no identification of any kind on it or inside it.)
  • 4. If an instrument is lost or stolen, report it, along with the serial number, to the manufacturer.
  • 5. Before purchasing a used instrument, online and/or otherwise, ask for the serial number; then check with the manufacturer and/or websites such as http://www.larrykrantz.com/stolen.htm and The Flute Network at http://flutenet.com/. If the serial number is listed as a lost/stolen instrument, contact the proper authorities immediately.
  • 6. Return any lost/found instrument to a person who is at least reasonably trustworthy, such as a law or security official and not just any employee, passerby, passenger, or other stranger.
  • More than one person who has heard my story has told me that our recovery of the flute is truly a “miracle.” After all the unbelievable actions leading to our happy conclusion, I believe it. It would have been so easy, so many times, to give up my search; but it would have been immeasurably easier if we had simply recorded and saved the flute’s serial number, registered it with the manufacturer back in 2004 when it was purchased, and had identification on and/or in the flute case.

    Today, we are still awaiting instructions from our insurance company regarding our return of their check. The better news is that the flute is in a local music store, being cleaned, tuned, and checked for damage. Thankfully, there appears to be nothing amiss—another miracle, considering that the instrument has apparently travelled all over the world and exchanged hands several times.

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