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The Case of the Stolen Flute

BU detectives got their man, and a sterling silver instrument

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Larceny is not an uncommon crime on any urban campus, and the laptops and cell phones that disappear are seldom recovered. But when a College of Fine Arts music major’s $14,000 sterling silver flute was stolen one afternoon in late August, Brandon Stone, a Boston University Police Department officer, decided he wasn’t going to let the story end there.

Last week, after two months of determined, if sometimes tedious, investigation, Stone recovered the flute, and a suspect was summonsed to Brighton District Court to face felony charges of larceny over $250 and misdemeanor charges of trespassing. Friday afternoon, after talking to the insurance company, Stone returned the flute and an iPad that had also been stolen to the very happy student.

“I can’t say enough about the dogged gumshoe police work involved in doing this,” says Kelly Nee, BUPD chief. “He solved this the old-fashioned way.”

The student, who declined to be interviewed, had been practicing her music in an empty classroom at CFA, and stepped away for just a few minutes between 1:30 and 2 p.m. When she returned, the flute and iPad were gone. She immediately called BUPD.

The flute was a sterling silver model handmade a few years ago by master flute maker Juan Arista at the Arista Workshop in Bedford, Mass. Its serial number was just three digits. “Obviously this is worth a lot more than $14,000 to her,” Nee says.

Officers Michael Vanaria and Diane Smith found the first clue in the case in a security video, which showed a man hastily leaving the building via a rear handicapped exit at about the time of the theft. Stone, who attended the Boston Police Department’s detective formation training last spring and is temporarily assigned to the BUPD detective unit, took charge of the investigation and collected additional video from a nearby business, Boston traffic cameras, and the MBTA.

“Those were essential in being able to track his movements,” says Stone, noting that investigators ended up with hours of video of the suspect, but none with a flute showing.

Playing the odds, Stone combed databases of items consigned to New England pawn shops. Problem: Arista is also the name of a video game company and a movie production company, among other things. “Every night at 10 o’clock I got an email because I flagged the name Arista,” he says with a rueful smile. “They pawn a lot of video games in Maine, I guess.” But no Arista flutes.

Stone also spoke to area scrap metal companies, on the chance that the thief might have sold the flute for its silver content. He was told that they wouldn’t touch such a valuable item, especially from a dubious source. “It started getting frustrating,” he says.

Eventually, Stone found someone in the neighborhood of BU who’d had an earlier encounter with the suspect and gave Stone a name—but it was just a first name. That was enough to reduce that pawnshop database to about 500 hits. After searching hundreds of records in more detail, Stone found a 2014 transaction with a picture matching the suspect on the video.

“Thankfully, there’s a pawn shop in Boston that follows the rules,” by keeping snapshots of each client, Stone says. Now he had a last name and an address—enough information to reveal that the suspect had a criminal record that included similar opportunistic crimes.

“For some people, this is their life job,” says Stone. “And he’s rather good at it.”

Last Wednesday, Stone and Lieutenant Robert Manning went to the suspect’s residence with a search warrant, only to find out that he had moved just outside the city limits. They tracked him down and interviewed him, leaving empty-handed but feeling nearly certain that he still had the flute.

“It was strange talking to him in person after seeing him all that time on video,” Stone says, shaking his head.

On Thursday, as they were working on getting a search warrant for the new address, the suspect called and agreed to hand over the flute, along with the iPad. In return, he was summonsed to court rather than arrested on the spot, and the officers agreed to tell the district attorney’s office that he had cooperated. A court date is pending. Since the subject has not yet been formally charged, BUPD declined to identify him.

Later that day Stone called the student who owned the flute with the good news. Her reaction? “Not a lot of words. She was very shocked. She said, ‘What?’ a lot, and ‘Are you serious?’ This was her very special item, she had never replaced it, and it’s nice to get it back to her. She was pretty surprised, and so was I. It feels very good.”

Stone shares credit with all of the other officers and agencies involved, but Nee points right back at him.

“He was like a dog with a bone,” says Nee. “I couldn’t be prouder.”

19 Comments
Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

19 Comments on The Case of the Stolen Flute

  • Logic Rules on 10.24.2017 at 7:40 am

    Great story. Kudos to Office Stone. May justice be served to the suspect(dirt bag).

  • Paul Zeizel on 10.24.2017 at 9:16 am

    Nice to see that the good guys win once in a while!!!
    Officer Stone is the model of the best law enforcement professional…. gritty, intelligent, empathic and modest, working behind the scenes for what sounds like thousands of hours. This is not a job for him but a calling!

  • Dianne Zareski on 10.24.2017 at 9:22 am

    Awesome detective work! But how did the person get into the practice rooms? Students should make sure no one “slides” in on their swipe. Especially if it looks like they don’t belong there!

    • Alum on 10.26.2017 at 4:40 pm

      She was practicing in an empty classroom. Anyone can get into CFA during the day. I’m sure thieves are well-aware of how expensive a college-level instrument is and CFA is an easy target.

  • Words have Weight on 10.24.2017 at 9:26 am

    He is an intelligent and dedicated officer who was committed to solving this case, BU should be proud.

  • Lance Martin on 10.24.2017 at 9:29 am

    As an owner of 19 flutes, I applaud the efforts of Detective Stone and the BUPD. I’ve always felt if I should ever loose my flute on campus, nobody would care about my flutes as much as I , but I’m glad that I’m wrong about that.

  • Daniel O'Donnell on 10.24.2017 at 9:38 am

    Thank you Boston Police Officer Brandon Stone and to the BU Police.

    It is gratifying to read this story. Good job.

    Even if the suspect is rather ‘good’ at stealing – he should find a better way of making a living rather than leaving a trail of bitterly disappointed and cheated people in his wake. I wonder how much tax resources went toward resolving this crime – of which the suspect contributes ???? what?

  • Ginny Williams on 10.24.2017 at 2:57 pm

    Great story! Not just because the flute was recovered so long after being stolen, but the persistence of the BU police officer was truly impressive.

  • Kathy Downey on 10.24.2017 at 3:46 pm

    Great, uplifting story of great “gum shoe” BU police officer – by great gum shoe reporter Joel Brown!

  • Tim Hegan on 10.24.2017 at 5:15 pm

    Nice work, Brandon!!
    Great story~

  • Erin on 10.24.2017 at 5:41 pm

    It’s always nice to read a story that has a happy ending.

  • Les Koch on 10.24.2017 at 5:56 pm

    Congratulations detective! Hard work pays dividends. Keep up the great work.

  • Catherine Peterson on 10.24.2017 at 6:20 pm

    What a good read! Great to have stories like this and especially when they are so well told.

  • Rebecca Wish Esche on 10.24.2017 at 10:28 pm

    Great, heartwarming story that is especially welcome during these hard times for our country and for the world. Thanks to Officer Stone and to Joel Brown for bringing this good news to our attention.

  • Aenne on 10.25.2017 at 8:03 am

    Happy she got her expensive flute back, but will note: students “walk away for a few minutes” from cell phones, laptops, purses and other things all the time. Sometimes they leave things on study tables for over an hour, while they go to lunch. I know it’s inconvenient to lug things to the restroom or whatever, and it’s probably fine to leave them in a room full of other students, but strangers do come in off the streets. Mind your stuff!

    • Alum on 10.26.2017 at 4:42 pm

      I was a student when iPhones came out and everyone kept getting theirs stolen from the gym. But they were leaving them in their jacket pockets … unlocked on a coat rack.

  • Scott Hersey on 10.25.2017 at 8:16 am

    Good reporting work to uncover a rare happy ending on a campus larceny story.

  • PJ Bednarski on 10.25.2017 at 12:23 pm

    Great story. I’m always amazed how “little” thefts like that ever get resolved. I don’t think many of them do. It was interesting to see how Stone pieced it all together.

  • Jean on 10.26.2017 at 1:00 pm

    Great job BUPD. As a parent of CFA freshman with instrument, I always worry about safety as he practices late at night. He told me security is very good and he felt safe there. This story of the BUPD going above and beyond is very encouraging.

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