By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
EVERETT — To begin to understand why the burglary was so devastating to Debra Stevens is to go back in time half a century.
It is to return to the early 1960s to the living room of a Woodinville ranch house where a little girl, wide-eyed and hands folded in her lap, would listen to her grandfather’s vivid stories of mountain rescues and a dog named Arnold Von Minkelreid, who reportedly was so smart he could tie knots and string a lifeline across a river.
It is to hear her father explain the significance behind each of the dozens of antique guns he had collected and kept in a special room in their north King County home. Her dad wanted her to understand and respect the role each played in the course of American history, dating back to Revolutionary War-era flintlocks.
With their long heavy barrels and curved wooden handles, they were her favorites. She’d call them the pirate pistols. There also were muzzle-loading long rifles that conjured up images of Davy Crockett and pocket-sized derringers from the 1850s she imagined women concealed in their garters.
In May, someone stole roughly 40 antique firearms from Debra Stevens’ Snohomish area home. They had been a part of her dad’s prized collection.
Also taken was a deer knife her grandfather had given her when she was very young.
The knife “embodied all of those stories he told me,” Stevens said. “It was a treasure.”
It came in a leather sheath. She had never used it.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the burglary. Private eyes who Stevens hired also helped chase down leads.
So far, the investigations of her burglary have led to one man being charged with possessing stolen firearms and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Another man was arrested, but was later released from jail without being charged. About half of Stevens’ collection has been recovered.
Stevens knows the defendant, 30. He’s the son of her former boyfriend.
She suspects that he and his friends had been selling or trading the guns and rifles for drugs.
“It’s such a shame because these people obviously don’t care about them.” Stevens said. “It’s all about money to get high. … It’s hard to see that the guns went that direction because they really are part of our history.”
Stevens felt a sense of foreboding on May 7 when she drove along a gated and gravel dead-end road leading to her home. She saw her former boyfriend’s son and a second man. She knew neither lived nearby and she immediately feared the worst. Stevens slowed down and studied them.
The next day she realized that her gun collection had been stolen from her basement. Other items, including three chain saws, a camera, power tools, a laptop computer and a bag of Mercury dimes also were missing.
The firearms collection was impressive, a gun expert who works for Cabela’s told detectives. He had been to Stevens house the previous year to take a look at them. Many he had only seen in photos before viewing Stevens’ collection.
On May 9, two days after Stevens spotted the suspects near her home, a Marysville police officer noticed one of the suspects smoking marijuana with a teenager at the bottom of a ravine at Jennings Park, according to a police report.
The officer watched as the man pulled a revolver from his jacket and handed it to the teenaged girl, 17.
The officer drew his gun, ordered them to drop their weapon and called for backup.
Police recovered two antique guns from the suspect: a Harrington &Richardson .38-caliber revolver and an Iver Johnson &Cycle Works .38-caliber revolver. They also found two credit cards and an identification card belonging to two women.
After the break-in, Stevens followed tracks that led into woods behind her home. She found her hand truck and two rifles the thieves didn’t keep. Farther away, she came upon what appeared to be the burglars’ picnic spot. There were remnants from a strawberry rhubarb pie from her refrigerator and Martinelli’s sparkling cider from her root cellar.
Sheriff’s Detective Margaret Ludwig was assigned to the case. A year ago, she helped bring down the ring of obit burglars who would scan funeral notices and break into homes while grieving families were burying their loved ones.
Ludwig and others searched the woods, but it was something she noticed inside the home that’s provided compelling evidence, Stevens said. The detective had obtained texts and photos from the suspect’s cell phone and realized some of the photos had been taken inside Stevens’ home.
“That just creeps me out,” Stevens said.
Stevens is thankful half of her collection has been returned, even though some pieces were damaged. The private investigators received an anonymous tip detailing where and when they could pick up the guns.
Stevens no longer keeps them at her house.
During a recent visit she picked up a flintlock rifle and studied the ornate silver engraving. The hunting rifle could be traced to gun maker W&C Ogden in Owego, New York, in the 1850s.
She admired the craftsmanship and remembered her dad’s history lessons.
The ordeal also has brought back memories of her grandfather, A.T. “Ace” Sanderlin, a colorful Seattle police officer who walked the beat in the early 1900s. Newspaper accounts from the 1920s and 1930s recount some of the tales he told Stevens, how his rescue dog Arnold Von Minkelreid found dozens of lost hikers and the bodies of those who died in the wilderness.
A 1931 article in The Wenatchee World reported that the Doberman pinscher could “tie knots, string a lifeline across a river, scale a cliff, climb a stump higher than a man’s head, gather wood for a campfire and bring water from a spring.”
Among the antique armory that has been recovered was her grandfather’s favorite 1902 Remington deer rifle. He had given it to Stevens shortly before he died.
“That’s the one that made me cry,” she said. “It just means a lot to me.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org