Tourists often overlook Mariposa on their way to Yosemite Valley, but last week the small historic town in Northern California created headlines last week when thieves reportedly stole millions of dollars of gold from the California State Mining and Mineral Museum located on the Mariposa County Fairgrounds.
The museum, operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, issued a press release October 1 informing the public that the institution celebrating the 19th century Gold Rush will be closed "for repairs following the robbery" and that an inventory would determine the number and value of the items stolen.
In the robbery, a number of display cases, doors and other items were damaged by the approximately two suspects who entered the museum and stole an undetermined amount of precious minerals. It is the goal of State Parks to make the repairs quickly in order to reopen the museum to the public as soon as possible.
There were two State Parks' employees at the museum at the time of the robbery. Neither was injured and while both remain shaken from the experience, both report they are doing fine.
An inventory of the stolen items will be getting underway this week. Until it is completed, State Parks will not have a listing of what was taken or the dollar amount of the items.
Jim Ballinger, Editor of the Mariposa (Weekly) Gazette, reported September 27 that the museum had been robbed by 4 o'clock Friday afternoon. According to witnesses cited by Ballinger, two men wearing black clothing and night vision goggles and armed with pick-axes 'herded park rangers to one area of the museum and headed into the vault' but the alarm sounded, the vault door began to close and the men were denied entry. Law enforcement arrived 'within minutes' but the suspects escaped.
ABC News' reported that evening (here's a link to the video) and its source for the theft of millions of dollars was from a concerned board member of the museum, although the reporter, Rick Montanez, noted that the museum's treasure, the Fricot "Nugget" had not been stolen. The Fricot "Nugget" is a 13.8 crystallized gold specimen found in the American River in 1864.
Friday night, almost six hours after the theft, Jacob Rayburn for The Fresno Bee also quoted a California State Parks spokesman that an estimated $2 million worth of gold nuggets and precious gems had been stolen.
Diana Marcum for The Los Angeles Times reported the day after the theft that up to $2 million in gold and gems may have been taken from the museum, but also noted that the Fricot Nugget was still in its iron safe in a vaulted room. Ms. Marcum also reports that until recently the collection had been planned for storage until it was discovered that the Parks Department had $54 million it had not reported to budget officials.
The collection of more than 13,000 objects relating to the mining of gold and rare minerals in California began in 1880 and moved from San Francisco to Mariposa in 1983. The museum became a state park in 1999.
The lead agency for this investigation is the Central Division Investigative Services Unit (ISU) of the California Highway Patrol.