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Published: Monday, August 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Who stole the '33 Coupe?

A cherished car's been recovered; an auto theft task force seeks the thief

  • Wayne Caldwell is pictured with his 1933 Ford Coupe decades ago and again after its recent recovery.

    Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force

    Wayne Caldwell is pictured with his 1933 Ford Coupe decades ago and again after its recent recovery.

  • Wayne Caldwell owned a 1933 Ford Coupe for nearly 40 years before it was stolen from a Seattle garage in 1999. The car was recovered in north Snohomis...

    Photo courtesy Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Fo

    Wayne Caldwell owned a 1933 Ford Coupe for nearly 40 years before it was stolen from a Seattle garage in 1999. The car was recovered in north Snohomish County earlier this year.

  • Photo courtesy Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force
Wayne Caldwell owned a 1933 Ford Coupe for nearly 40 years before it was stolen from a Seattle g...

    Photo courtesy Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force Wayne Caldwell owned a 1933 Ford Coupe for nearly 40 years before it was stolen from a Seattle garage in 1999. The car was recovered in north Snohomish County earlier this year.

  • Photo courtesy Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force
A customized 1933 Ford Coupe that once drag-raced in Arlington was
stolen in 1999 and recently r...

    Photo courtesy Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force A customized 1933 Ford Coupe that once drag-raced in Arlington was stolen in 1999 and recently recovered. The Coupe's custom features include vintage stickers, a striped racing seat and blue windows.

  • Photo courtesy Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force
A customized 1933 Ford Coupe that once drag-raced in Arlington was
stolen in 1999 and recently r...

    Photo courtesy Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force A customized 1933 Ford Coupe that once drag-raced in Arlington was stolen in 1999 and recently recovered. The Coupe's custom features include vintage stickers, a striped racing seat and blue windows.

STANWOOD -- Late last year, a Stanwood man bought a shiny midnight-blue 1933 Ford Coupe.
The car had been sold a few times, and the new owner wanted to learn more about its history.
The man parked the Coupe in his garage next to his other classic cars. He and some local car buffs got to talking. The Coupe came up.
At some point, someone said: Wait a minute. That sounds like Wayne Caldwell's car.
They got ahold of Caldwell at his home in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula. The Coupe he had owned for more than 40 years had been stolen in Seattle in 1999.
During the call, Caldwell sat down in disbelief.
"After all, it was 13 years," he said. "I kind of figured I wasn't going to see it again."
Then, he called police.
-- -- --
The Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force took the case. The unit combines investigators from the county sheriff's office and the Washington State Patrol. They specialize in recovering stolen cars and arresting car thieves.
The detectives believed the Coupe could be Caldwell's former race car, but they needed proof.
The Coupe rolled off the assembly line during the Great Depression. Caldwell bought the car in 1954, without an engine. He was the third owner. He still has the car's title from the second owner, dated 1947.
Caldwell drove the car for a couple of years. Then he took it racing at the Arlington drag strip.
After it was stolen, Caldwell posted "wanted" fliers around Seattle.
-- -- --
In October 1957, the now-defunct Northwest Rods Magazine wrote a story about Caldwell and his Coupe. Another article later that year included additional pictures.
After the man in Stanwood bought the car last year, he found the articles.
He talked to people he knew. Word got around.
A lot of the men who used to drag-race back in the day, they keep in touch, Caldwell said.
He knew it was his car. He had to prove it, though. It didn't take long.
He'd saved all his documents and photographs. He'd installed tinted blue windows. He'd moved the radiator cap inside, out of view. He'd installed a custom striped racing seat.
In January, Caldwell, who's now in his 70s, drove from his home in Sequim to meet with the task force in Everett.
He brought photographs, including 35mm slides taken in Arlington. He spread his files all over the briefing table. They needed another table to hold it all, task force detective Eric Fagan said.
They compared Caldwell's old photos to new ones. Even the stickers matched, including a residual outline on the car where one sticker had been.
"The matching 1957 and 2013 photographs of the Valvoline and Hilborn injector stickers on the left side of the firewall helped cinch the identification," Caldwell said.
-- -- --
There aren't a lot of leads, Fagan said last week. Someone out there knows something.
Whoever swiped the Coupe likely isn't the same kind of crook who boosts beaters in north Everett for joy rides. They knew what they were doing, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Jason Longoria, who leads the task force. They might have known Caldwell.
"He truly loved that car," Longoria said. "He was just heartbroken."
-- -- --
After it disappeared, the car was sold to someone in Bremerton. Then it sat in a barn for awhile. Later, it was owned by someone in Everett for about 12 years, then someone in Arlington, and ended up in Stanwood.
The car was reported as stolen, but over the years, something happened. The car's identification numbers no longer matched the information in police records.
Buyers had no way of knowing the classic car was stolen, Fagan said. The Stanwood man, who paid $7,500 for the Coupe, had no idea. He couldn't be reached for this story.
One of Caldwell's old photos showed him "standing by the passenger side, standing all proud, back in his heyday," Fagan said.
This year, the detectives took another photo of the pair, in the same pose.
Caldwell thanked the detectives in story he wrote for the Sequim Valley Car Club newsletter.
"They really did a fine job," he said.
The task force was formed about five years ago. In 2012, the detectives recovered 109 stolen vehicles and arrested 36 suspected car thieves.
Caldwell took the Coupe home on Jan. 15. The Coupe was the oldest car the team has recovered so far.
"He had a nice little car hauler, and we pushed that thing up there, strapped it in and off he went," Fagan said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.
Anyone who might have information about the 1999 disappearance of Wayne Caldwell's 1933 Ford Coupe can contact investigators at 425-388-3845.

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