Medal theft is the theft of awards for military action, civil service, and achievements in science or sports. Medals and similar awards are stolen for resale, private collection or ransom; some are destroyed for gold bullion. While not common in developed nations, reported instances have drawn wide press coverage, considering notability and public exposure of the victims of the crime.
Thefts by nation
In December 1979, a medal awarded to Milton Fowler Gregg in 1918, the Victoria Cross, was donated to the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, Ontario, but was stolen from the museum shortly afterwards.
Russian Empire, Soviet Union, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine
Peacetime theft of medals prior to 1980s was quite rare. A well known case occurred on the day of the Decembrist revolt, December 14, 1825. Military governor of Saint Petersburg, Count Miloradovich, was fatally wounded by Pyotr Kakhovsky. The dying Miloradovich was taken to a safe place; when a surgeon arrived there, Miloradovich laid stripped of his military decorations. The marauders remained unidentified.
A black market in Soviet military artifacts boomed in 1980s. The first publicly known case occurred in 1983: retired admiral Georgy Kholostyakov and his wife were murdered at their home by Gennady and Inna Kalinina, with the sole purpose of obtaining the admiral's medals (which included the Golden Star and Order of the Bath). The prosecution, allegedly supervised by Yuri Andropov, connected Kalinins to another murder and 38 other cases of medal theft. Gennady Kalinin was sentenced to death, Inna Kalinina to 15 years. Violent robberies against veterans remain quite rare: in most cases the thieves impersonate social workers, policemen, museum workers and thus obtain access to old veterans' homes without violence.
A massive theft from the Central Armed Forces Museum was identified in 1994 and remains unsolved. In November 2006 Russian government agency requested Sotheby's to halt an upcoming sale of 11 Soviet military awards presumed to be stolen. The medals were later returned to Russia through Interpol. The Central Armed Forces Museum admitted that the medals could have been stolen from them.
December 23, 1999, thieves stole the collection of Michel da Vincha, a French citizen and notable collector living in Moscow, which included rare awards of the Russian Empire. Although the police soon recovered the stolen treasures, as of April 2007[update] they were still not returned to Da Vincha.
According to Trud, there were two surges in medal thefts in 2000s. The latest one occurred in the first half of 2008, apparently continues as of August 2008 and has not been analyzed completely yet. Victims range from World War II heroes like Yekaterina Demina, the only female Marine of that war, to symphony conductor Veronica Dudarova. A concurrent crime wave was reported in Minsk and Vitebsk, Belarus. The previous crime wave peaked between 2003 and 2006; most public cases include:
- In 2004 Moscow prosecution detained someone Yury Tikhonov who faced indictment for multiple counts of medal theft, including robbing fighter ace Anton Yakimenko. The alleged thief visited war veterans in Russia and Belarus disguised as a photographer, and quietly replaced their genuine medals with fakes. Prosecution asserted that a large number of similar crimes remained unknown to the victims due to the quality of counterfeit medals. In 2006 Tikhonov's modus operandi was repeated in Ukraine by a 30 year old psychology student, also using photography and counterfeit replicas. The unidentified thief was caught in Rivne Oblast and indicted in 15 counts of theft.
- An Order of the British Empire was stolen from its owner, educator Elena Nemirovskaya, in July 2004. Nemirovskaya, Teodor Shanin and Mstislav Rostropovich were the three living Russian recipients of OBE, and Nemirovskaya's award was the only one physically present in Russia.
- In 2005 Moscow prosecution indicted Alexander Karmanov in multiple cases of fraud. According to prosecution, in 1993 Karmanov, a seasoned convict who already served a total of 17 years in prison, organized a properly licensed military "museum" - to circumvent the law prohibiting trading in state awards. Karmanov, presenting himself as a legitimate museum worker, fraudulently obtained awards issued to late Ivan Kozhedub, Sergey Gorshkov and other military figures.
- In the middle of 2006 two men robbed the family of the late Hero of the Soviet Union, WWII bomber pilot Yegor Chalov (1919-1983) in Novgorod. September 10, 2007 Hero of the Soviet Union, former intelligence officer Nikolay Kuznetsov, also from Novgorod Oblast, was robbed of his medals. Both cases appear to be connected by a common sales channel. Perpetrators in Yegor Chalov case were apprehended and eventually sentenced to 4 years each; the stolen medals are presumed gone without trace. Medals stolen from Kuznetsov were recovered through Moscow journalists, apparently in the course of the same operation.
In 1985, Kay Miller's Nobel medal for ‘International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War’ was stolen and recovered.
The Nobel Peace Prize medal won by one of the founding fathers of the modern Labour Party, Arthur Henderson, has been stolen in a £150,000 raid at the Lord Mayor’s office in Newcastle on 3 April 2013.
A large collection of medals, trophies and lithographs were stolen from the The International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2004. The bulk of the collection was sold off on eBay by the thief. Most of the items were returned in 2005 after the museum discovered the theft. The 1912 Olympic wreath and gold medal of Belle Moore are still at large.
December 2, 2007, thieves stole 11 war medals from the QEII Army Memorial Museum in New Zealand. Stolen medals were recovered in February 2008 after paying the bounty, reportedly to the thieves themselves. Three unidentified persons appeared in courts as suspects.
- Lord, Craig (Sep 20, 2011). "Once Lost, Konrads Legacy Is Preserved". ISHOF News/Events. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
- Berry, Jamie (December 18, 2003). "Theft of medal leaves champion heartbroken". The Age.
- Staples, Michael (3 November 2012). "Hero's medal needs to be displayed here - soldier". The Daily Gleaner. pp. A1–A2.
- Dunlop, Cst. Lea-Anne (2009-01-16). "Break In at Odd Fellows Lodge". Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- "Some stolen medals retrieved". Vancouver Sun (Chilliwack: Canwest News Service). January 24, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- "8 detained for Tagore medal theft". The Tribune (Kolkata). March 26, 2004.
- (Russian) М. Lukanin. Kavalery chuzhih nagrad (М. Луканин Кавалеры чужих наград) Trud, May 27, 2008 
- "Sotheby’s to Return Medals to Russia". Kommersant. December 13, 2006.
- "Soviet medals withdrawn from Sotheby's may have been stolen". RIA Novosti. November 23, 2006.
- (Russian) V. Shurygin. Antikvarny labirint (Влад Шурыгин. Антикварный лабиринт), Schit i Mech, №15/1079, April 2007 
- (Russian) V stolitse ograbili izvestnuyu razvedchitzu (В столице ограбили легендарную разведчицу), Izvestia, July 1, 2008 
- (Russian) Other recent, 2008, cases in Moscow alone include widow of fighter ace Fyodor Artemenko (January 23), family of Aleksandr Perov, a FSB officer killed in the Beslan school hostage crisis (April 28), an 85 year old former nurse identified by first name only (August 15), an unidentified 85 year old recipient of all three degrees of Order of Glory (July 16), an unidentified chief surgeon of the Central Clinic (June 06)
- (Russian) Crime reports by Minsk police department, 2008: June 22 July 11 August 28
- (Russian) V Vitebske uchastilis popytki krazhi ordenov i medalei (В Витебске участились попытки кражи орденов и медалей у ветеранов войны) Site of Polatsk city administration, February 8, 2008 
- (Russian) V Moskve u generala ukrali zvezdu Geroya (В Москве у генерала мошенник украл звезду Героя Советского Союза) newsru.com, January 23, 2004 
- (Russian) S. Dyupin. Ordenonosets v osobo krupnyh rasmerah (C. Дюпин. "Орденоносец" в особо крупных размерах), Kommersant-Dengi, N. 15 (470), April 2004 
- (Russian) U Vladimira Shandruka vymanili orden Lenina (У Владимира Шандрука выманили орден Ленина) Gazeta po-ukrainski, November 16, 2006 
- (Russian) Pochichen edinstvenny v Rossii orden Britanskoy Imperii (Похищен единственный в России Орден Британской империи) newsru.com, July 26, 2004 
- (Russian) E. Borodina, G. Voronkov. V tyurme ne bez udoda (E. Бородина, Г. Воронков. В тюрьме не без Удода), Moskovsky Komsomolets, July 5, 2005 
- Born 1922, full namesake but not a relative of better known intelligence officer Nikolai Ivanovich Kuznetsov (1911-1944)
- (Russian) V. Poletaev. Obidchikov geroya otpravili v tyurmy (В. Полетаев. Обидчиков героя отправили в тюрьму) Rossiyskaya Gazeta, February 5, 2008 
- (Russian) Razvedchiku Kuznetsovu vozvratili ukradennye u nego nagrady (Разведчику Николаю Кузнецову возвратили украденные у него награды) Ruslevel.ru, December 12, 2007 
- "Liverpool Medal Theft: Man Walks Free". British Sky Broadcasting.
- Medals stolen in Aldington burglary[dead link]
- "Hannah Macleod's stolen Olympic bronze medal returned". BBC. 26 October 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
- Mogharabi, Shabnam (March 14, 2005). "ISHOF memorabilia recovered". Pool & Spa News. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
- Felony charge for student in Nobel medal theft[dead link]
- Zaharov-Reutt, Alex (8 March 2007). "Ignoble Nobel medal theft sees prize recovered". iTWire.
- "New Zealand Museum Theft Heart ripped out of museum; rare George Crosses and an Albert Medal were among those stolen". Museum Security Network. December 3, 2007.
- Stolen medals due back at museum in October[dead link]