Picking Harvard's Pocket

The entrance strategy was simple. On Saturday afternoon, December 1, 1973, a visitor to the Fogg Art Museum, a man in his twenties, left a brown...

The entrance strategy was simple. On Saturday afternoon, December 1, 1973, a visitor to the Fogg Art Museum, a man in his twenties, left a brown paper bag with a box inside it marked "Coop" with the security guard at the front door. He did not return to pick it up. At 4:55 p.m. the guard got a telephone call from a Mr. Ryan who said that he had forgotten his package and would like to come get it that day because it contained a birthday present for his daughter. The guard told Ryan he could pick the package up between 5 and 6 p.m. from the watchman on the evening shift, whose station was just inside the service entrance on the north side of the museum. Ryan didn't appear, and so that guard turned the package over to Charles Pearson, who relieved him at midnight, telling him that Ryan was supposed to come get it.

"At approximately 12:45 a.m., a white male, about 5´8›, 180-190 lbs., no other description, came to the north entrance of the Fogg Museum and stated that he was Mr. Ryan and he was here to pick up his package (pointing to a brown bag which contained a white box marked COOP)," according to an incident report filed by Officer Thomas Mercier, Harvard University Police Department (HUPD), on Sunday, December 2. He was recording a statement taken from Pearson: "I (Mr. Pearson) unlocked the door and let him in. This Mr. Ryan walked over to the package, picked it up and turned to walk out when he produced a chrome plated small revolver and said this is a hold-up. Mr. Ryan then gave me a ski cap to put over my head and eyes and then tied me up with some blue plastic tape and made me lay down on the floor. Mr. Ryan said to be quiet that he had three or four more guys coming in. I was picked up off the floor by Ryan and asked where the elevator was. I was taken to the third floor."

Pearson was made to face the wall outside the Coin Room, a study/storage room, not one of the public galleries. The thieves did their work and departed. It was 10 to 15 minutes before Pearson could untie himself and call the police.

From the incident report of Sergeant Robert A. Jones, HUPD: "At 1:30 a.m. I was called to the Fogg Art Museum that Mr. Pearson was robbed. As I approached Quincy and Broadway, I saw two M/V, a black T-bird parked on the wrong side of the street facing east with one person inside. There was a late model Buick, gold color, parked on the right side of the street with four men inside. The Buick got directly behind the other car, and they drove off heading east on Broadway. The Buick trunk was hanging low. I was unable to read the plates because of the distance."

Jones notified his superior and the Cambridge Police Department. He then woke up a professor and some Fogg staff members, among them Suzannah Doeringer (now Fabing), A.M. '65, assistant director of the Fogg (the director was in Vermont); Hudson professor of archaeology George M.A. Hanfmann, Jf '38; and Laurence Doherty, superintendent of the building. A fingerprint man from the Cambridge police discovered that the thieves had worn gloves. Fabing and Hanfmann examined the Coin Room in the pre-dawn that Sunday morning and told Jones, he wrote, that "taken also was a safe 2 12´ x 3 12´ which contained 2,650 coins, which were on loan to the museum. Approximately 3,000 coins were taken from the Coin Room itself. This brought the total to 2.5 million dollars up to 5.5." (Later, all these numbers would be revised.) The thieves took the guard's ring of about 30 keys, unlocked the Coin Room door, smashed open cases, and "took the most valuable coins leaving the imitations behind."

The Harvard News Office issued a press release at noon. By then the FBI was also on the case. The stolen safe contained Greek coins, the bulk of them silver. Also taken were "loose Greek and Roman gold, bronze and silver coins. The coins range from the seventh century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. The value of the theft will have to be determined when a complete inventory is made." The press release quoted then associate curator of ancient art and Loeb professor of classical arts and archaeology David Gordon Mitten, Ph.D. '62: "The coins are a fundamental part of our teaching resources. Their value lies in their use for study and research and in this respect, they are irreplaceable. It is a tragic loss for scholarship."

"The holdup is believed to be the largest in history involving rare coins," the Boston Globe reported. "The loss surpasses the record $1.5 million in coins taken [at gunpoint] on Oct. 5, 1967, from the Willis H. du Pont home in Coconut Grove, Fla."


Exactly what had been stolen was a mystery itself. The coins in the safe belonged to the Dewing Greek Numismatic Foundation and had been presented to the Fogg as a long-term loan in several groups between 1965 and 1971 by Arthur S. Dewing '02, Ph.D. '05, who died in 1972. Dewing started his career professing philosophy at Harvard, Yale, and Simmons, but then shifted to economics, becoming professor of finance at the Harvard Business School. He climbed mountains recreationally in his youth and began collecting early Greek coins in his more sedentary forties. The coins in the safe were exactly 2,874 in number and had been carefully described; 153 Dewing coins were not in the safe and escaped theft. A Fogg photographer, Michael Nedzweski, had been in the process of photographing Dewing's coins for the record. Since ancient coins were all hand struck, they differ, and a photograph can be a certain way to identify a coin. Good records were available for a number of exquisite coins bequeathed to Harvard by Frederick M. Watkins '30, Jf '36, Ph.D. '37, a professor of political science at Yale, who died in 1972. He and Hanfmann had been in the Society of Fellows together and were close friends.

Many European banks, particularly in Switzerland, maintain numismatic departments and trade in ancient coins. In May 1974 Dr. Leo Mildenberg, chief numismatist of Bank Leu in Zürich and a distinguished scholar in the field, who had known Dewing and had sold him coins, valued the stolen Dewing coins at $1,870,438.75. The bank had also sold coins to Watkins.

Patricia Erhart (now Mottahedeh), Ph.D. '78, a graduate student who worked 15 hours a week as keeper of the Coin Room, was asked to estimate how many coins belonging to Harvard the thieves had taken, in addition to the Dewing Collection. By early February she had arrived at the number 8,732, which meant a total of close to 12,000 coins might have been taken. About 4,000 coins remained, most of them modern. The number of Harvard coins stolen could only be estimated, for there was a debilitating shortage of records concerning them.

Though far more numerous than the Dewing coins, Harvard's were less precious and represented the accretion of years through various bequests. Its modern coins were of little value to teachers, students, or even collectors. But among its holdings were ancient treasures. James Clapp '31, an architect who was president of the Boston Numismatic Society, informally valued the stolen coins belonging to Harvard at $320,000 to $360,000.

What did the thieves suppose they would do with their treasure trove? They might sell the coins to an unscrupulous collector. They might ransom them back to the Fogg. Worst of all, they might melt them down for precious metal. They might risk offering the coins to a dealer. With the counsel of the American Numismatic Society in New York, Mottahedeh sent lists of stolen coins to 121 dealers in the United States and abroad asking for their vigilance.


Had any suspicious visitors come to the Coin Room in the days before the theft? the Cambridge police wanted to know. Only two people had visited during the preceding week, two men together two days before the theft, asking for general information about ancient coin types and about the Pine Tree shilling, minted in Boston from about 1667 to 1682. They had inquired at the front door and been referred to Mottahedeh by the guard. One had seemed to Mottahedeh a likely amateur coin enthusiast, the other had looked too stupid to be interested in coins. Neither one alarmed her. She went to police headquarters to help assemble noses, eyes, and ears into two composite drawings. One showed a mustachioed man of about 45 wearing eyeglasses, the other a man of perhaps 25, Mottahedeh recalls, with a bloblike face.

Fabing today speaks of the "enormous amount of time that museum people would spend in many ways during the next few years supporting law-enforcement efforts." She remembers 57 of her own days spent "sitting around in courthouses." The museum had lost more than coins; "administratively, it was a huge drain on the institution." Mitten says that Mottahedeh, "the real heroine" in the cataloging and recording work, "put in hundreds of hours on this."

As early as the day after the robbery, Cambridge police sources told the Crimson that they were "very close" to apprehending the thieves, the newspaper reported.

"Starting about two or three weeks, maybe even 10 days after the robbery, the FBI thought that they knew who had committed the robbery," Daniel Steiner '54, LL.B. '58, then general counsel to the University, would later testify. The FBI was "almost continuously optimistic," he said, "both in terms of catching the criminals and recovering the coins."

"Throughout this period-- generally on holiday weekends, is my recollection--we'd get an urgent call from the Cambridge police or the FBI or someone saying that they were on the verge of recovery, and there was some [reward] money involved, and we should meet very quickly," Steiner testified. Today he recalls "constant back-and-forth with various law-enforcement agencies, many meetings, and many false alarms."

In February Steiner gave the FBI a Harvard check in the amount of $25,000 as money to be dispensed in return for information leading to the recovery of the coins. Agents working on the case were on to something and thought the funds could be useful. But special agent Peter C. Van Derveer came to Steiner's Massachusetts Hall office on February 26 to return the money. (By then the $25,000 was in the form of $100 bills. Steiner had Van Derveer accompany him across the street to Holyoke Center, where they deposited the money in the financial office and obtained a receipt.)

Months passed, with no criminals caught or coins recovered. "The FBI held out hope of the imminent return of the collection," a glum Hanfmann told the Fogg's director in the summer. "As late as April, there seemed good hope of retrieval, a hope which has by August apparently become much more remote."

On September 5 a man called the Fogg to say that he knew "a clairvoyant woman who, if given the date of the coin theft, will know where the coins are."


On the first of February 1974 or thereabouts, a couple of months after the robbery, Stephen J. Hall, the University's vice president for administration, got a telephone call from an acquaintance in Scituate, Massachusetts, who said that he had been approached by a man called Irving Richards. Richards could be very helpful in getting the coins back. Was Harvard interested in talking?

Steiner later recalled asking either special agent Carroll Farmer, who was in charge of the investigation, or Van Derveer what the FBI knew of Richards. He had been effective in recovering stolen property in other instances, Steiner was told. Shortly after the robbery, Richards had come from California, had nosed around, and a special agent had told him what the FBI knew about the crime, including the names of the suspects. The agent told Steiner that Richards was "not someone I should trust particularly far."

Steiner and Hall met the Scituate man and Richards in the lounge of the Colonnade Hotel in Boston. "Richards said he was a private investigator who had a good record of obtaining the return of valuable property and that he would be willing to help get [the coins] back, for a price," Steiner later testified. "Richards said something about recovering the Brasher doubloon that was stolen from the du Ponts." He mentioned the names of the suspects, names Steiner had heard from the FBI. Steiner remembered Richards as middle-aged, "with a thinnish, rather hard face."

Richards revealed his price, which was, Steiner testified, "in the neighborhood of $400,000 or $500,000. I said, 'There is absolutely no chance of our having any arrangement for anything approaching that sum of money,' just flatly. The meeting terminated, aside from pleasantries.

"I was very dubious about the proposition to start off with," Steiner said, "and when the amount of money came out, I just lost interest completely."

Smoke-filled-bar encounters for purposes such as this had been outside Steiner's experience. He was to have no more of them with the man calling himself Irving Richards, formerly of Massachusetts, then of California. That was the last time he saw or spoke with him. But around the Fourth of July, he got a telephone call from Richards's lawyer, Donald J. Calabria, of Sherman Oaks, California. Calabria said "his client would effect a very quick recovery for us," Steiner remembered, "and that they were lowering the price--were we interested?" The new price was $250,000. Not interested, said Steiner.

In August Calabria called again. The price was now $50,000. "From my point of view we were [then] in a different ball game as far as money was concerned," Steiner testified. He was willing to talk about a $50,000 reward. He had already offered $25,000. By August, Steiner also was beginning "to despair somewhat as to what our chances were for recovery," although "the FBI was still optimistic about it."

Calabria came to Steiner's office, and on August 27 they made a deal. Harvard would pay Richards if his actions led directly to the recovery of the coins--$50,000 for all the coins and less, proportionally, in the event of a partial recovery, the amount to be based not on the number of coins recovered but on their value. Harvard would determine the value of any coins recovered. The FBI would determine whether any recovery was the direct result of Richards's action. Harvard would make an advance payment of $3,000 to cover Richards's hotel bills and airfare. Harvard would not, at Richards's request, mention his name in any publicity given to a recovery he might effect. Richards would not "represent himself as the employee or agent of Harvard, the Fogg Museum, or the owner of the Dewing Collection."

Today, we think about these events in the past tense, but Steiner was in the present, and he did not know what would happen next. "I did have a feeling that we, Harvard, were getting into bed, to a certain extent, with a shady character," he would say later. "A large reason we did it is because the bulk of the collection was not Harvard property; it was on deposit at Harvard, and we had certain guilt feelings that property in our custody had been taken, and we did things that we perhaps normally wouldn't do to try to attempt recovery."


One of the suspects, whose name the FBI had given to Steiner and to Richards, was Anthony B. Vaglica, 50, formerly of Dexter Street, Waltham, Massachusetts, a mustachioed man who wore eyeglasses. A year before the coin heist, he had been employed at Widener Library, in a prison work-release program. Vaglica reportedly had a genuine, extralarcenous interest in coins and had stolen from Widener a number of books about them, which were later recovered. Vaglica was characterized off the record by a codefendant's lawyer as "a collector of other people's possessions."

Three months after the assault on the Fogg, Vaglica found himself resident in the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston for an armed robbery of a credit union. By September 1974, he was awaiting sentencing for that robbery and was thus under considerable pressure to cooperate on the coin case. But the FBI's negotiations with him bogged down. Then an agent put Richards in touch with Vaglica and his attorney.

Vaglica wanted assurance that Richards was not some sort of cop. Calabria asked Steiner to give Richards a note he could show to Vaglica. Richards was using a different surname in his undertakings with the imprisoned suspect, and Steiner was asked to use that name in the note. He was unwilling to do so and instead used Richards's first name only in this note dated September 3: "To Whom It May Concern: We have had discussions with Irving of Lou Bennett Associates, Sherman Oaks, California, concerning the return of the coins stolen from the Fogg Museum last December. It is our understanding that Irving is an independent private investigator and that he is not associated with any state, local or federal law enforcement agency. Daniel Steiner, General Counsel."

Richards tried in various ways to learn from Vaglica the whereabouts of the coins, but did not succeed. According to later accounts by the FBI and Calabria, he did somehow get Vaglica to divulge that Martin G. Regan, 31, of John Street, Attleboro, Massachusetts, knew where some of the coins were. Why Vaglica would have divulged this is not clear.

The FBI suspected Regan and thought he was likely to be a weak link who might crack under pressure. They initiated surveillance of him and tried in other ways to harass him. Regan and his girlfriend were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, for example. After Steiner and Calabria had signed their agreement in August, the FBI told Richards to turn in the direction of Regan.

On October 9, 1974, Richards and an associate, Raymond Palmer, paid a call on Regan at his home to persuade him to hand over the coins. Regan's lawyer, Thomas J. May, would eventually describe in a court document what happened next. They assaulted Regan with a revolver, threatened to kill him, handcuffed him and threw him down onto the floor, sprayed a noxious chemical into his eyes, and struck him with repeated, grievous blows upon his head, shoulders, and about his body, thereby wounding him and rendering him unconscious.

"Mr. Richards acted independently of us in his efforts to obtain the coins," Steiner later stated. "We issued no instructions and received no reports from him. We certainly had no foreknowledge of any plans to use violent methods and, needless to say, would not have condoned the use of such methods."

Even given his methods, Richards had failed to learn the whereabouts of the coins. He told the FBI that he was unable to recover any of them and was going back to California.


When Regan regained consciousness, he went to the hospital "to get his head stitched up," said May in a later conversation with one of Harvard's lawyers, and gave a story that he had been hurt by burglars. Thomas R. Grossi, an Attleboro police detective, began to work on Regan about those burglars and the beating. "I told him that things like that don't just happen," Grossi explained to a reporter. Regan "was fearful for his life," according to May. He "started to put hypothetical questions to Grossi as to what would happen to a man who gave helpful information about a major crime."

May would later recount to the Harvard lawyer how his client came a cropper. Regan had had no involvement with crime before the coin robbery. But then he lost his job, a relative introduced him to Vaglica, and he promptly became involved in the planning and execution of the robbery, together with his girlfriend. After the robbery, Regan got mixed up in other crimes.

Grossi put Regan in touch with Detective Joseph Connors, of the Cumberland, Rhode Island, police. Connors and Regan had been altar boys together. After numerous discussions with law-enforcement people and his attorney, Regan decided to cooperate with the police, was granted immunity, and was taken into the federal witness protection program.

Later testimony would reveal that before the robbery Vaglica had had an understanding with a fence in Georgia who agreed to take on the stolen property. But that critical arrangement fell through. Instead, the thieves sped away from the Fogg on that freezing Sunday morning to Regan's girlfriend's apartment, broke into the safe, and split the coins four ways. Since Vaglica was the sole person among them who knew anything about coins, an equitable division of the loot can be presumed only if there is honor among thieves.

Vaglica entrusted his share of the coins to Regan, who caused them and his own coins to be interred in a wood in Lincoln, Rhode Island, stashed in a bowling-ball bag and an old green metal tool chest. On October 30, three weeks after Richards and Palmer assaulted Regan, the FBI dug up this buried treasure--the bowling-ball bag was moldering--and took it to their headquarters in Boston, where Fogg workers began the task of identifying 3,036 coins and 105 medals.

On November 5 the FBI and local police arrested five persons in the Boston area and lodged a detainer against the release of Vaglica, on warrants obtained by then United States attorney (now governor of Rhode Island) Lincoln C. Almond. They also had a warrant for the arrest of a sixth suspect, Carl R. Dixon, 29, of Minden Street in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, who turned himself in the next day. Two of the arrested were soon released; wittingly or not, they had the coins in their home in Abington, Massachusetts, before the burial. On December 10, 1974, a Middlesex County grand jury indicted Vaglica, Dixon, and Louis R. Mathis, 43, of Rindge Avenue, Cambridge, for armed robbery and Maria T. Megna, 21, of Main Street, Medford, Massachusetts, as an accessory after the fact.

A delighted Mitten, by then curator of ancient art, noted the ironic "parallels between the agents' recovery task and the methods of archaeologists who routinely find caches of ancient coins buried in the ground. In classical times, when there were no banks, rich and poor alike protected their money by burying it." He exuberantly praised bureau agents and was quoted in the Fogg newsletter stressing his gratitude for "all the things they must have done in ways we can't even fathom."


Later in the week of the busts in Massachusetts, on November 8, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Montreal police arrested three United States citizens in Montreal and recovered another portion of the Fogg's property--854 coins. One of the men arrested was believed to be part of an alleged organized-crime ring of art smugglers who transported stolen goods between New England and Canada. Canadian authorities had information that a deal was being made to sell rare coins for $150,000 (they were worth close to $1 million) and put the three men under surveillance. They were seen leaving a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, where they had been for three hours, and one of them carried a briefcase. They entered a delicatessen down the street. Police stopped them and searched them. The briefcase was empty, but on one of the suspects, Allen I. Kirchick, 40, of Harvard Street in Brockton, Massachusetts, they found a key to a safe-deposit box in the bank the men had just visited. Kirchick had rented the box the previous January. Police found in it three paper bags, two containing loose coins and the third, coins in their original envelopes. Two of the men were released for want of evidence. Kirchick was charged with illegal possession of the coins. How he came to have them the record does not reveal. He went to trial in September 1975.

Harvard's assignment was to establish that the coins were, in fact, the Fogg's. Mitten and Mottahedeh went to Montreal soon after the arrest of Kirchick, were taken by the police in a car with no interior door handles in the back to a hotel room (because the station house was overflowing with just-recovered furs), and for two days, working the first night until 2 a.m. and the second night until 4:30 a.m., attended all the while by an armed officer, they attempted to identify coins. The officer was a colorful, macho fellow, Mitten recalls, who drew a pistol from an armpit holster in a flash when a hotel maid burst into the room unannounced. When Mitten got his first look at the coins, "there was the Dewing 10-drachma coin of Akragas, one of the great treasures, sitting right on top. I said, 'Oh, my God, there's the Dewing decadrachm.'" (This is an example of the largest denomination struck by the Greek cities in classical times and is about the size of a silver dollar.)

The proceeding got off to a bad start. The Fogg had taken identification materials--books, catalogs, and so forth--to FBI headquarters in Boston for use in identifying the Rhode Island coins and had asked the bureau to package the materials and send them to Montreal for use by Mitten and Mottahedeh there. When Mottahedeh opened the package in the hotel room, she discovered that the FBI had made a mistake and had included some of the Rhode Island coins in the package. This could suggest to a wary armed policeman that these agents of the Fogg intended to swap bad coins for good. After Mitten and Mottahedeh disclosed the presence of these Rhode Island coins, the officer watched the museum people closely.

The identification of these coins as the Fogg's was made dicey by the shortage of serviceable records. At pretrial hearings, before a judge whom Mitten today characterizes as hostile--"He seemed to think that this was an exercise of American imperialism, coming up trying to push Canadians around"--Mitten and Mottahedeh faced this dilemma: if they asserted that a coin was Harvard's, but when challenged about that, were unable to produce a record proving ownership, the coin might, of all things, revert to Kirchick.

The case of Regina v. Allen Kirchick was heard beginning on September 12, 1975. "I was just an inconsequential graduate student," says Mottahedeh, who is today a playwright, "but at the trial I was treated as sort of an expert witness." She has no trouble remembering the date because it was her twenty-fifth birthday. She had a cake in the judge's chamber, and the jury sent her a birthday card. Hanfmann, Mottahedeh, Nedzweski, and Pearson testified. "We were very lucky," says Mottahedeh. "They asked us in court only about the most valuable coins, and we had good records for those."

Leo Mildenberg traveled from Zürich to testify, as he had handled many of the coins and could identify them with authority. (A decade later, he would coedit a two-volume work about the Dewing Collection published by the American Numismatic Society.) "He convincingly demonstrated to the court," says Mitten, "that there are no two exact duplicates of ancient, individually struck coins." Among the coins of which he had special knowledge was a Syracusan silver tetradrachm showing the head of the nymph Arethusa. Made in about 410 B.C. by the artist Kimon, one of the greatest die cutters of antiquity, it was innovative--because it showed its subject head on, instead of in profile--and trendsetting. Arethusa's eyes are large and clearly defined. Her hair flows freely about her head, and dolphins swim through the tresses as though through waves. (Mottahedeh would later write her doctoral dissertation on the frontal head in Greek coinage.)

"Dr. Mildenberg came at his own expense," Mottahedeh recalls. "He was charming, and the jury loved him." "He had testified before in Montreal against the Mafia," says Mitten, "and he had some fear for his safety. But he was met at the airport by two huge Mounties." "It is abundantly clear," wrote the Fogg's new director, Seymour Slive, in a thank-you letter to Mildenberg, "that the jury's decision to render a guilty verdict was due in large measure to the persuasive testimony that you gave on our behalf." The Fogg got its coins, and Kirchick got three and a half years.


Richards wanted to get his reward. His lawyer, Calabria, wrote to Steiner on May 29, 1975, contending that "in cooperation with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Richards initiated continuous surveillance and harassment of Mr. Regan, which led directly to the recovery of the coins.... Agent Vandemeer [sic] has indicated to me that the coins recovered equal 60 percent of the total value of the coins stolen. Therefore...we hereby demand payment in the sum of $30,000."

Steiner promised Calabria that he would make a fair assessment of the situation, but warned that once the valuation of the coins recovered in Rhode Island was complete, it would be clear that their value "will not begin to approach 60 percent of the total value stolen."

Steiner met with FBI agents on July 29 to discuss the merit of Richards's claim, and subsequently the principals--among them special agent Farmer--initialed a memorandum recording the results of that meeting. They concluded that Richards was "not entitled to any additional money under the terms of our letter agreement." The agents agreed with Calabria's assertion that Richards had learned from Vaglica, in the words of the memorandum, that "Regan knew where some of the coins were, a fact that the FBI had previously assumed." But the agents maintained that "the basic information in solving the case was obtained by the 40 or so FBI agents who worked on it at one time or another. What Richards knew about it, he learned from the FBI." The recovery of coins in Montreal had had nothing to do with either Richards or Regan. Steiner communicated these findings to Calabria and heard no more from him.

Richards himself returned to Massachusetts voluntarily to answer an indictment against him for assault and battery with a handgun as well as a spray chemical and entering a dwelling with intent to commit larceny, but he escaped incarceration, which cannot be said for his associate Raymond Palmer, who did time at the New Bedford House of Correction for beating Martin Regan. Steiner testified at Palmer's trial.

Regan--a.k.a. "Mr. Ryan," the man who had come to the Fogg in the middle of the night to retrieve his package from the Coop--sought damages in the amount of $4,900,000 for the "injuries, humiliation, pain and suffering" he sustained as a result of his beating by "agents, servants or employees of Harvard." In a complaint served on October 12, 1977, against Harvard, Richards, and Palmer, he alleged that it was Harvard's intention "to cause extreme emotional duress," and that its conduct was "reckless and outrageous." Attorney John M. Harrington Jr. '43, LL.B. '49, of Ropes & Gray, representing the University, advised Steiner that Regan's lawyer, Thomas May, might be using this gambit in an attempt to scare up his fee for representing Regan and getting him immunity. Harrington met with May and reported, "May indicated that he thought $100,000 would be a fair figure but he is ready to negotiate." Harrington advised Steiner that the University could defend itself successfully against the complaint. May evidently thought it unprofitable to proceed.


Lawyers for defendants Vaglica, Dixon, Mathis, and Megna--the other three thieves and the accessory--filed motions in Middlesex Superior Court asking the court to dismiss charges against their clients and to suppress testimony of chief prosecution witness Regan. The lawyers alleged that FBI agents used unethical methods--the strong-arm tactics of Richards--to obtain Regan's cooperation. They argued that Richards was in effect a government agent. Steiner testified at a pretrial hearing on those motions beginning on April 7, 1976.

The lawyers quizzed Steiner in detail about how he had come to make his arrangement with Richards and what the FBI had advised him to do about it. They probed Steiner's memory of the man from Scituate who had touted Richards to Harvard vice president Hall. Steiner could remember almost nothing of him, except that he was probably middle-aged and might have been an insurance broker. Steiner's testimony ran over into a second day, and on the evening of the first day, he telephoned Hall to ask the name of the Scituate man. Hall couldn't remember it either, but the next morning he did and told Steiner that it was Peter Cook, or Cooke. The lawyers made nothing of that.

Steiner was clear that the FBI had not pushed Richards on Harvard. "The FBI was very careful never, never to advise me to retain, make any arrangements with Mr. Richards or not to make any arrangements with Mr. Richards," Steiner testified. "And I never asked them that question because I thought that was a decision Harvard had to make." Generally, he said, the FBI "had a negative attitude toward our getting involved with him....I discounted that negative factor somewhat because conceivably it was professional jealousy."

Judge Herbert F. Travers Jr. denied the motions, ruling that Regan was afraid of associates of Vaglica or of Richards and Palmer, not of the government. "Clearly, his decision to cooperate was free from all duress and coercion," said Travers. "There is, in fact, absolutely no evidence indicating that any government agent had any knowledge of the beating until after the fact. The government neither requested it, suggested it, directed it, nor participated in it."


The trial of the thieves began October 25, 1976, and ended in convictions. On November 24, the judge sentenced Vaglica to 15 to 30 years in the penitentiary at Walpole, which he was to begin serving after his 17-year correctional stay in Rhode Island. (The police let Mottahedeh know, incidentally, that when they caught up with Vaglica, they easily recognized that it was he who was depicted in the composite drawing she had helped make the day after the robbery. She had not supposed that she would be able to identify Vaglica at the trial, and indeed she could not.) Dixon and Mathis got 20 to 30 years. Megna--a native of Italy and an American citizen for six years, a cashier at a Cambridge Stop & Shop supermarket and a worker at a local nursing home--was put on probation for five years.

The sentences laid on Dixon and Mathis, each of whom had prior records, were harsh, and they were intended, according to speculation in the press, to exert pressure on these men to reveal the whereabouts of their portions of the coins. The Boston Herald American reported on May 5, 1979, that "two Norfolk Prison Colony inmates were trying to buy their way to freedom by disclosing the hiding place of the coins." State Police major John F. Regan and lawmen from Norfolk and Middlesex Counties "met for two hours with the inmates in Foxboro State Police barracks, but negotiations broke down because they 'wanted too much.'" Norfolk County district attorney (now United States representative) William D. Delahunt would not confirm that these dealings occurred, but he reportedly said, "I want it known that there were definitely no negotiations just before we learned where the coins were buried. No deals or promises of rewards have been made to anyone."

Then, culminating a five-month investigation, at 6 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, May 5, as the Herald American reported the next day, Major Regan and "an individual" went to a spot littered with lengths of pipe and debris somewhere on the South Shore--Regan wouldn't identify "the individual" or the place more exactly. Francis D. Riley, now chief of the Harvard police department but formerly with the State Police, recalls that Regan was aided in this and other recoveries by an informant of his, Miles Connors, a master criminal doing some bargaining for himself. The individual pointed to a spot, and Regan dug. He unearthed a military-style duffel bag and a red fishing-tackle box encased in a plastic bag. These contained Dixon's share of the take, exactly 2,000 coins--and a fishhook.

On the following Saturday Regan dug up a briefcase in a basement somewhere in Middlesex County. It contained 883 coins.

In all, 6,773 coins and 105 medals had now been recovered. All but 156 of the stolen Dewing coins were in hand. According to the original estimate that Mottahedeh was asked to make, almost 5,000 coins were, and are, still missing. But by 1979, museum officials were telling reporters that "more than 6,000 coins were stolen," not nearly twice that many. Mottahedeh believes today that after all this fuss and bother, almost everything worthwhile was recovered. "About nine tenths of the coins came back," Mitten thinks, "and most of the good ones."

Further recoveries are still possible. Among the vanished Dewing pieces was a series of seven little Macedonian silver coins from Eion, each with a duck on it. Six were recovered by police in the seventies. "In 1994," says Mitten, "a cleaning woman, Anita Reed, found the seventh under the edge of the rubber-based carpet of the Coin Room. We told her how wonderful she was."

The coins are kept today in the Sackler Museum, across the street from the Fogg. "Their whereabouts in the building," says Mitten, "is one of our most closely guarded secrets. I don't even know the combinations of the safes in which the coins live, so that if someone came in here with a submachine gun and said, 'I want your coins,' I couldn't tell them."


When Carl Dixon had served a third of his sentence, which was reduced to nine years in light of his cooperation, he petitioned his parole board for release. Middlesex district attorney John J. Droney wrote the board on Dixon's behalf: "As a direct result of his persistent efforts, most of the thousands of coins were recovered by law-enforcement officials. This involved not only Mr. Dixon's share of the coins, but he also played an integral part in recovering the share of a co-defendant." Dixon asked everyone he could think of for help with his parole board, including Leverett Saltonstall '14, LL.B. '17, LL.D. '42, former United States senator and former governor of the Commonwealth. He appealed to Steiner, who wrote a letter to the board saying that he believed Dixon was ready to amend his life. Parole was denied.


After Major Regan dug up the coins on the South Shore at the individual's direction, he took them to the Quincy District Court, where Steiner and Mitten were waiting. "I will never forget the look of sheer delight and relief on David Mitten's face when he saw those coins," says Steiner. Mitten was, the Globe reported, "near tears of joy when he saw the hoard spread on a table....He reached into the pile of silver, bronze and gold coins and extracted one that he had hoped would be among those recovered. Holding a silver 10-drachma piece from about 476 B.C., he said, 'I can't believe it. This is the day we've been waiting for.'" "It's probably the most valuable one in the entire collection," he told the Herald American. "Only 14 are known to be in existence."

The Fogg gave a party in the courtyard of the museum for law-enforcement people who had helped recover the coins.

Seymour Slive, director of the Fogg, gave Mottahedeh and each of the staff members who had been most intimately involved in the matter of the coins a memento--a silver tetrobol dating from 300 to 190 B.C. from the ancient Greek city of Cnidus in Asia Minor, bought from a dealer for the purpose. The little coin has on it the head of Artemis, goddess of the hunt.

Christopher Reed is the executive editor of this magazine.

Read more articles by: Christopher Reed

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