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One guitar out of a 100

May 3, 2016

Vimeo / UMass Journalism – via Iframely

Amy Lacharite made a sour face as she pointed out a deep scratch, about the size of her hand, in the veneer on her golden-brown Washburn Cumberland acoustic guitar.

“He could have left it outside where it was cold, or in a garage, I don’t know. He could’ve bumped it into something. I don’t know,” Amy said.

The scratch on the face of the guitar is a mark left from its theft in February when a burglar stole the guitar from the Lacharites’ home while Amy was out visiting her husband, Donald Lacharite, at Baystate Hospital in Springfield, Mass. Donald had been recovering from a severe bacterial infection in his joints for three months.

Looking back, Amy said it wasn’t just a random theft.

“We needed to have some things done in the house to make it okay for him to come home,” Amy said. “A local contractor who did some things in the house recommended someone to do the carpentry work.”

When the February weather worsened, the contractor’s work stalled. He told Amy he would return once the weather was better. When he came back, he had a worker with him that Amy had never met before. Over a couple of days, she realized it was the contractor’s son working with him.

“They were working on the house, and I was spending all day and late into the night at the hospital every day,” Amy said. “So I would let them in, in the morning, and [the contractor] would lock up and close the door behind them as they were leaving.”

One night, after returning from the hospital, Amy noticed her guitar had gone missing.

Mrs. Lacharite demonstrates how the empty guitar stand was discovered.

Amy Lacharite demonstrates how the empty guitar stand was discovered.

“I immediately called [the contractor] because they had been the only ones in the house. He had told me that he plays the guitar, and that he takes guitar lessons. So I asked him if he had borrowed the guitar to show his guitar teacher,” Amy said.

The contractor replied that he hadn’t touched the guitar, and he wouldn’t have taken anything from the house without her permission. At that point, Amy thought of the contractor’s son.

“I asked him if his son could have taken it,” Amy said. “He didn’t think his son would do that, and he said he was going to call back later, and he called and said he talked to his son, and his son said he hadn’t touched the guitar, and that I could call the police if I needed to do that.”

The situation worsened during the next few days. Amy confronted the contractor again over the missing guitar, who told her it was not his business and he was excusing himself from the job, leaving work unfinished and many questions unanswered.

“When I heard about the guitar being stolen, I could hear it in her voice. She really was devastated,” said Donald.

“It is a special guitar, it’s hard to come by and I’m a musician myself. And I felt that once these things happen, it’s almost impossible to get them back,” Donald said. “If someone’s experienced in how to get rid of an instrument for quick cash, they know how to hide their tracks.”

After filing a report with the Warren Police Department, Amy and Donald checked online listings on Ebay and Craigslist for two weeks, trying to find anyone attempting to sell the Washburn guitar. Donald, still in the hospital, contacted private sellers and collectors for information.

Eventually, the couple gave up, believing the guitar to be lost, and started a new search for a replacement.

“It meant something to me, so I wanted the same guitar. And after we started looking for one, we realized how rare it was,” Amy said.

As they searched, they learned of the rarity of the Cumberland guitar line, with only 100 specially manufactured for the Oklahoma Vintage Guitar company, each retailing at $1,400 for a new guitar.

Then there was a breakthrough.

“I did hear once about an all-U.S.A. Craigslist search, so I actually looked that up. I put in all of the search terms, and came up with someone in Wisconsin who had that kind of guitar. It was a Cumberland jumbo Washburn from Oklahoma Vintage Guitars, and he had one for sale,” said Donald.

Donald spoke with the Wisconsin collector at length until he said on the phone, “Did you know that I found a guitar just like this being sold in Massachusetts? That’s not your wife’s guitar, is it?” And I said, “Where in Massachusetts?”

The collector gave Donald a link to an Ebay page containing information on the finalized sale of a Washburn Cumberland, which strongly resembled the missing guitar, through a private reseller in Fitchburg, Mass. One aspect of the Ebay listing stood out to the couple.

“He said it was without a case. Which intrigued me because the person who stole this guitar didn’t take the case,” Donald.

After matching up other characteristics of the missing guitar with the advertised Washburn — a loose battery cover and wobbly input jack — the Lacharites promptly turned the information over to the police.

“[The Warren police] worked with the Fitchburg police, tracked [the reseller] down,” Amy said. “Apparently he had a bill of sale and emails from the son of the guy who was working in the house.”

The guitar had already been shipped out to a buyer in Connecticut, but the authorities contacted the receiving postmaster and put a hold on the guitar’s delivery, enabling them to return the instrument back to the Lacharites.

With her guitar back in her arms, Amy fussed over small imperfections on its surface.

“There’s two dents here, on the back,” she said, turning the guitar over to point out two small indentations. “Those weren’t there before.”

Warren police issued an arrest warrant for the suspected burglar, but Amherst police arrested him on other charges in March. He has not been charged with the guitar theft.

“Everything about [the guitar] really is special,” Amy said. “It’s… it’s not one of a kind, it’s one of a hundred, but it’s close to one of a kind.”

Ron can be [email protected]

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