Stolen rifle returned to Unicoi Co. man 15 years after burglary

Brad Hicks • May 9, 2012 at 8:11 AM

ERWIN — Unicoi County resident Harry Rigdon said the Model 94 Winchester .30-30 rifle he purchased more than 15 years ago holds a special place in his heart.

The gun was purchased for Rigdon’s son to use on his first youth hunt. With it, Ridgon’s son was able to bag his first deer. Afterward, the gun was proudly displayed in Rigdon’s home to commemorate the successful hunt.

“It’s kind of got a sentimental value to it,” Rigdon said of the gun.

However, it wasn’t too long after Rigdon bought the gun for his son that burglars entered his home. His son’s Winchester, as well as two of Rigdon’s own guns, were stolen. The burglary was reported to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department on Dec. 27, 1996.

While Rigdon failed to keep records on his own firearms, the man he purchased the Winchester from, Charles Harris of Flag Pond, did maintain records. Harris was able to provide the Winchester’s serial number, which investigators entered into the National Crime Information Center database.

Years passed, and no NCIC “hits” regarding the gun were reported and its whereabouts were unknown. But this all changed on April 6, when a man walked into a gun store in Clackamas County, Ore., approximately 2,600 miles from Unicoi County, with the intent of selling a gun.

According to a report from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, the man attempting to sell the gun told the store’s clerk the gun had been a birthday present from his father, who had purchased the gun from a friend six years earlier.

Once the store checked the gun’s serial number, it was shown to be the Winchester rifle stolen out of Unicoi County in 1996. From there, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office was contacted, which in turn contacted the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

Recently, the Winchester rifle was shipped back to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, and Rigdon stopped in Monday to take it back home. Although the gun has likely passed hands several times and traveled countless miles in the nearly two decades since it was taken, its condition has held up quite well, with only a little rust showing on its chamber.

The moral of the story, UCSD Chief Investigator Ronnie Adkins said, is that it is important for citizens to maintain the serial numbers of valuable items in case those items ever turn up missing.

“You’ve always got hope that you can recover it if it’s ever checked or run by law enforcement,” Adkins said.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley also urged residents to take the time to take down the serial numbers of valuables — such as firearms, computer and televisions — and place these numbers in a secure location. If such items are ever stolen, these serial numbers can then be provided to law enforcement to enter into the NCIC system. Once the numbers are entered in the system, if the items they correspond to are checked by law enforcement, authorities will immediately be able to tell if the items had been stolen and where they were stolen from.

“If they will take those numbers and put them in a part of the house where they know where they’re at and can get their hands on them, if they’re ever burglarized or something’s stolen from them, we have that serial number we can enter,” Hensley said.

Rigdon said he was “shocked” when the sheriff’s department contacted him to report they had recovered the rifle that was once a gift for his son. And although he was just reunited with the gun, Rigdon already has plans for its future.

“I thought I’d never get it back, never get to see it again,” Rigdon said. “Now I can say, ‘Well there it is again.’ We’ll save it and give it to the grandchild someday. That’s what’s going to eventually happen to it.”

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