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Candid camera nets theft suspect; Owner of costly coins arranges secret taping of desk that held them

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A handyman was arrested yesterday by Baltimore County police after he was allegedly recorded on videotape stealing three gold coins worth close to $1,000 from the home of a Riderwood man who had hired him for a refurbishing job.

The homeowner, Raymond Steward, said he hired the handyman and several other people early last month to work on parts of his newly purchased home.

The job of the handyman, identified by police as 40-year-old Gilbert C. Kessler, was stripping old, upstairs oak balusters. About two weeks later, the owner said, he noticed that three of the 16 American golden eagle coins he purchased in October were missing from a vial in the top drawer of a downstairs office desk.

"They were in a plastic vial, and no one else knew about the coins except for my wife and I," said Steward, a 36-year-old contractor.

"It was stupid to leave them in the drawer," he said, noting that each of the 1-ounce coins was valued at $318.

About a week later, he got a call from the handyman, who offered to finish the work. "By then, I narrowed it down to him," Steward said. "I was glad to invite him back."

Before the handyman arrived yesterday, the owner sent his wife and children out and installed a hidden video camera on the bookshelf with a 100-foot cable from his office to his next-door neighbor's garage, where he could conduct surveillance.

He said he left the coins in the top drawer of his desk.

A few minutes passed before the handyman had his hands on the remaining coins in the drawer, the owner said, adding he also taped the suspect's attempts to wipe his fingerprints from the drawer with his T-shirt.

The owner called police to his neighbor's house and showed them the results of his candid-camera work. Officers then entered the home and arrested Kessler. He has been charged on multiple theft counts. Police said they recovered three coins from Kessler's pockets.

"We probably won't get the other coins back. We checked the pawn shops, but no one had traces of the coins," the owner said, adding that he plans to get a safe-deposit box.

District Court records show a string of arrests for Kessler of the 2800 block of Westfield Ave. in Northeast Baltimore, and a theft conviction in 1997. He was being held at the Towson Precinct last night awaiting a bail hearing.

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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