SEATTLE - A handbell hobbyist in Texas helped crack the case of the stolen church chimes, leading police to three young men suspected of pawning about $20,000 worth of the gleaming bronze bells.
Six of eight cases of Schulmerich handbells and Malmark hand chimes stolen from Alderwood Community Church in Lynnwood, Wash., were sold by local pawnshops through eBay to buyers as far away as Pennsylvania for a combined $4,129.
A 21-year-old Everett, Wash., man - a former church member - was arrested last week, and police expect to arrest other suspects.
The church didn't discover its collection of nearly 100 bells and chimes was missing until Labor Day weekend because its bell choir took a summer hiatus. Police, however, say the instruments were sold to pawnshops in July and August.
The Lynnwood church filed a police report Sept. 24 and alerted members of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers. A guild member in Texas spotted some of the stolen bells on eBay, said Lynnwood Detective Doug Teachworth.
EBay's online records show that five buyers purchased six cases of the bells and chimes from two Seattle-area pawnshops, Diversified Loans & Music and Pawn X-Change. Teachworth said he used pawnshop records to track the instruments to two of the suspects.
He found an additional case of handbells at another Lynnwood shop, Cascade Pawn, and returned it to the church. Cascade's records implicated the arrested man, he said.
One case, which contained chimes, remains missing.
Federal and state laws strictly regulate pawnshops, which require sellers to provide either a driver's license or passport. That data must be reported to local law-enforcement agencies within 24 hours.
Brad Shain, president and chief executive officer of Redmond, Wash.-based Pawn X-Change, said his company was dismayed by the discovery. He called the church last month to offer compensation, he said.
"I said we'd either do a donation or buy new bells," he said. "It's the right thing to do."
The suspects, if convicted, would be required to pay restitution for any instruments not recovered, Teachworth said.
The three suspects apparently entered the church on several days over a two-week period, each time walking out with cases of bells and chimes, he said.
The church declined to comment on the case. The arrested man had attended the church "for years and years and years," Teachworth said, but was not a current member.
The suspects received a total of $800 to $1,000 from the three pawnshops, Teachworth said.
The arrested man, a student at Edmonds Community College, is the only one with a police record, Teachworth said. Several months ago, police interviewed him regarding a sound-mixer board he'd pawned that was stolen from the college.
The bells and chimes sold on eBay in August and October for prices ranging from $205.94 for a set of six handbells to $903 for a set of 13.
Teachworth said police would try to recover all of them.