3 Rare Swords Recovered; 2 Suspects Held

Times Staff Writer

Three antique Japanese swords, part of a $1-million collection stolen in 1981 from a Hollywood Hills collector, have been recovered and two suspects have been arrested in the theft, police said.

However, Willis M. Hawley, who had spent 50 years amassing the rare swords, which date back to the 14th Century, did not live to see the three rare swords recovered. He died last November at age 91.

"He was utterly devastated when they were stolen; I wish he could have known about this," said his son, Willis (Bill) Hawley, on Wednesday.

Ronald Curland, 27, was arrested last week in connection with the January, 1981, burglary. He had served time for his involvement in another burglary at the Hawley residence in December, 1980, police said. In that case, all but six of 24 stolen swords were recovered. But within weeks of that theft, another 150 swords worth $1 million were stolen, police said. Curland is now serving time at Chino State Prison on a narcotics conviction.

Police also arrested Ronald Bates, 40, at his Huntington Beach home in connection with the 1981 burglary. The two are being charged with receiving stolen property because the statute of limitations in the burglary case ran out in 1984, police said.

Late last year, police received tips that several pieces of the Hawley collection began surfacing as suspects tried to sell the items on the antique market, said Los Angeles Police Detective Bill Martin. "We tracked those tips down."

The three swords recovered from the 1981 burglary are valued at about $11,000. A fourth sword, worth $50,000, is known to be in Japan, Martin said, and Japanese authorities have been asked to help retrieve it. He added that the rest of the collection, which includes more than 150 swords dating back to the Shogun era in Japan, has not yet been recovered. He said the investigation is continuing, but would not say whether police know where those weapons might be.

The elderly Hawley, a retired specialty manufacturer for interior decorators, had written several books on swords. His 1967 book, "The Japanese Swordsmith" is considered the definitive work by many sword collectors.

Never Really Recovered'

"His whole life was swords," said Bill Hawley. He added that his father and mother had been robbed and badly beaten in their home by an unknown assailant in an earlier incident. One sword was stolen at that time. No one was arrested in that case. The mother, Lillian Hawley, died last December, several weeks after her husband.

"They never really recovered from the attack," Bill Hawley said.

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