LOCAL : $550,000 Stradivarius Violin Stolen at Airport, Police Say

From Times Staff and Wire Service Reports

A Stradivarius violin valued at $550,000 was reported stolen from a baggage cart at Los Angeles International Airport, but police said the thief probably did not know what he was taking.

The rare instrument, along with a second Hirsch violin valued at $8,000, was taken from concert violinist Erich Gruenberg after he arrived from England via British Airways Tuesday afternoon, police said today.

"They were taken off a cart after he cleared customs," said Detective William Martin, the LAPD's specialist in art theft, who was assigned the case. Gruenberg apparently left the cart briefly after rolling it outside the terminal.

"I'm just devastated," Gruenberg, a 65-year-old Austrian-born violinist who lives in London, said Wednesday of the loss of the Stradivarius. "It is irreplaceable."

The case containing the instruments was rectangular, not shaped like a violin. Martin said the thief or thieves probably believed that they were stealing luggage. "Unless they had X-ray vision they couldn't know what was inside," he added.

Police statistics show that there have been an average 181 thefts a month at the airport so far this year.

Gruenberg, who had journeyed to Los Angeles with his wife, had served as concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic.

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