Stolen MLK statue art recovered from scrap yard: Police

ByBill Hutchinson ABCNews logo
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Three bronze artworks thieves pried off a Denver monument of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been recovered by police, who are searching for two suspects who allegedly sold the pieces as scrap metal, authorities said.

The art pieces taken from the "I Have a Dream" monument in City Park were found along with seven other bronze works stolen from a memorial fountain in the park honoring Joseph Addison Thatcher, a historic Denver figure and founder of the Denver National Bank in the late 1800s.

"The theft of the bronze pieces from the Thatcher Memorial fountain was unknown until the recovery of the items from the scrap metal business," the Denver Police Department said in a statement.

Thieves struck the King monument on Feb. 18 between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., prying off a large bronze plaque weighing more than 200 pounds and depicting African Americans who served in the United States military from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War. Two smaller bronze pieces taken from the monument were pried off a unity torch and a choir lady.

The pieces weren't noticed to be missing from the King monument until Feb. 21, when a Denver Parks and Recreation maintenance staffer saw they had vanished and reported the theft, according to police.

"The large plaque stolen from the 'I Have a Dream' monument was cut into four pieces prior to it being sold for scrap," police said.

All of the stolen pieces were returned to the Denver Arts & Venues, which manages both monuments, according to police.

Two suspects were being sought Wednesday, including one identified by police as 67-year-old Herman Duran. Investigators are still working to identify a second suspect and said they are seeking the community's help in locating both alleged perpetrators.

Vern Howard, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission, told ABC News last week that he initially suspected the damage to the King memorial was racially motivated, but police said they have uncovered no evidence to support that theory.

"Because the stolen pieces from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 'I Have a Dream' monument and Joseph Addison Thatcher Memorial fountain were sold as scrap metal, the incident does not appear at this time to be bias-motivated," police said. "However, investigators' final findings will be presented to the Denver District Attorney's Office, which determines charges."

The city of Denver commissioned sculptor Ed Dwight, the first African American NASA astronaut candidate, to create the King monument, which also features bronze statues of Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth.

"Obviously, I'm extremely disappointed. But it was sitting there waiting to be vandalized," the 90-year-old Dwight told ABC News last week, citing the lack of security cameras or other means to protect the monument.

Dwight said the stolen bronze plaque was curved at the same radius as the pedestal and would be difficult to replace because the molds he used to create it no longer exist.

It remains unclear if the dismantled plaque can be put back together.

"It's one of my big successes in my body of work," said Dwight, who lives in Denver. "It attracts people from all over the world that come here just to see this memorial. So, for somebody to come and vandalize it is just disgusting to tell you the truth."

Howard said the entire monument is valued at $3 million and that the swiped plaque is worth about $75,000.

Police did not reveal how much the pieces were sold for as scrap metal.

In late January, a bronze statue of Jackie Robinson, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers player who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, was stolen from a park in Wichita, Kansas. The Robinson statue, which had been cut off at the ankles, was later found dismantled and burned in a trash can.

In the Wichita case, a 45-year-old man was arrested and charged with felony theft valued at more than $25,000, aggravated criminal damage to property, identity theft and making false information, according to the Wichita Police Department. Police said they are "very confident" that the theft of the Robinson statue was not a race-related crime, but that it was stolen for the potential financial value of the metal. Investigators are still trying to identify other individuals involved in the theft.

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