Robbers hit California State Mining and Mineral Museum
Thieves armed with 'pickaxes' may have taken up to $2 million in gold and gems from the Mariposa museum, which will conduct an inventory to determine losses.MARIPOSA — Armed robbers may have made off with as much as $2 million in gold and gems from the the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, a parks spokesman said.
A statewide hunt was on for the robbers and the possible loot Saturday after the Friday afternoon robbery. About 4 p.m., multiple robbers dressed entirely in black and wearing face masks and night goggles broke in and threatened a museum curator and a museum guide with what were described to police as pickaxes.
They herded employees into the far end of the faux-mine museum building, then went after the famed Fricot Nugget, an almost 14-pound swirl of crystalline gold believed to be the biggest chunk to survive the Gold Rush, said state parks spokesman Roy Stearns.
The nugget is kept in an iron safe within a vaulted room. When the burglar alarms sounded, the doors to the room automatically started to close. The thieves couldn't get into the safe but managed to escape the building — possibly with other gold and gems.
Within minutes, law enforcement officers swarmed the museum grounds. The Mariposa Gazette posted online "The California State Mining and Mineral Museum has just been robbed."
The suspects are still at large. The museum's treasures have been moved to an undisclosed location, where officials will take inventory to see what is missing.
The possibility of such a heist has been a point of contention among local volunteers who wanted the state Parks Department to turn over control of the museum to them.
The cash-strapped state was slated to pack up the collection for storage by the end of July. Then, on July 20, it surfaced that the Parks Department had $54 million socked away, previously unreported to budget officials; and the museum and its collection remained open, awaiting a final decision.
Gold, gems stolen from Mariposa museum
Several robbers threatened museum staff with weapons before stealing the gems and gold, said Park Ranger Superintendent Greg Martin.
Only a rough estimate of the amount stolen can be made until there is an inspection of the museum's inventory, said Roy Stearns, deputy director for communications for California State Parks. Some of the gold is fairly large, about the size of a fist, and will be difficult to sell. The collection at the museum is considered significant, curator Darci Moore said in a recent Merced Sun-Star story.
"Geologists and experts in mineralogy come here to do their research," Moore said.
Moore said more than 20,000 people visit annually and, despite the threat of closure because of state budget problems, the museum's 132-year-old display had remained open.
Moore had told the paper that she fears what will happen to the collection if the museum is closed: Will it be properly protected? Will the largest pieces be shipped to bigger museums, leaving the rest to be forgotten?