Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cops, FBI work to Wright a baseball wrong by Dave Wedge

Cops, FBI work to Wright a baseball wrong
By Dave Wedge   |   Tuesday, July 27, 2010  |  |  Local Coverage
Photo by Herald file
Hub gumshoes are hot on the trail of a stolen will signed by an old-time Boston Hall of Fame ball player as part of a wider probe into black market memorabilia trafficking, the Herald has learned.
Boston cops are trying to broker a deal with a Virginia baseball collector to return a will signed by 1870s Hub star George Wright, a Hall of Famer who won six titles in the game’s infancy with the Red Stockings, a precursor of the Boston Braves. The document, a signed “executor’s bond” for the estate of Wright’s wife, Abbie, was among a batch of historic papers swiped from the Suffolk Probate Court in the late 1990s.
“We’re trying to work it out now with the person who is in possession of it,” said Detective Steven Blair of the Boston Police Special Investigations Unit. “I’d rather get it back in the Probate Court, which is where it belongs. If (the collector) doesn’t agree to give it back, we’ll pursue it criminally.”
Wright’s signature, a rare item in the baseball memorabilia world, was cut out of the document and had been up for sale on an autograph Web site for $6,500. The listing has since been pulled down.
Blair, who worked on an infamous 1998 case involving the theft of dozens of ball players’ wills from Suffolk Probate Court, said investigators are still trying to recover documents from the heists. Former Suffolk court officer Joe Schnabel admitted swiping several wills from the Boston courthouse, as well as others out of state courts, and served probation.
“We don’t know how many of them are out there. They keep popping up on these auction sites,” Blair said.
The bid to recover Wright’s will comes as a larger FBI probe continues into the theft of rare papers and photos from courts and libraries in New York and Boston, including the 1948 will of slugger Babe Ruth, which was stolen from New York. That will, which includes one of the final signatures of the Sultan of Swat, recently turned up on an auction site for $95,000, according to, a blog that tracks memorabilia fraud.
Also still missing is a Ruth mortgage document - swiped from Middlesex Probate Court - for a house the home run king owned in Sudbury in the 1920s.
Suffolk Register of Probate Richard Iannella said his office implemented strict new security protocols after the thefts and now keeps celebrity papers in a private vault.
“These documents belong to the court and, more importantly, the people,” Iannella said. “This is the history of the commonwealth.”
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