It's been more than a year since thieves went into a Lodi storage business and made off with a monster-sized safe containing 50 guns and 2,000 rounds of ammunition.
Now the gun owner is possibly going to get one of those guns back, after it was found in a Stockton criminal's hands. A couple more guns have turned up in the Sacramento and Stockton area, Lodi Police Detective Nick Rafiq said.
But where the rest of the guns have gone is not known.
Kenneth Warren, who was about to sell the gun collection for at least $70,000 when the Dec. 31, 2007, heist happened, had figured his guns had long since been moved out of state. Friends suggested he go to gun shows to look for his missing firearms, many of which were rare collectibles, but the gun aficionado knew that would be a dead end.
"Anybody touching those guns knows they're stolen, so they're not going to sell them (at guns shows)," he said Tuesday.
The whole thing sickened him to the point that, after the initial police reports, he just tried not to think about it.
He'd used the guns as a kind of retirement savings, storing them in the biggest, heaviest, most fire-proof safe he could find. When he moved to Stockton from the Grass Valley area, he checked out storage companies for the one that seemed most secure.
Warren rented a unit at U-Haul, 450 N. Cherokee Lane, choosing a space on the second floor to further ensure that the safe, weighing 1,300 pounds when empty, wouldn't go anywhere.
It did anyway.
On that New Year's Eve, at 1:29 p.m., thieves managed to break into the storage unit and get the whole safe out the door and down an elevator to a waiting vehicle.
A lengthy police investigation resulted in a long report with multiple interviews, but no arrests have been made.
Then came a call that one of Warren's guns had been found in Stockton. He filled out paperwork required to retrieve any firearms, sent it off to the California Department of Justice about two weeks ago, and is now waiting for clearance to get the gun back.
That gun was a custom-made Smith & Wesson that was one of a batch specially ordered by a group of gun collectors.
The gun has almost no barrel but can produce a lot of firepower, Warren said. It's intended for people who go bear hunting on horseback, so they can quickly pull a gun from their hip without the barrel getting in the way, he explained.
The blast from the gun can still stop a bear. In other words, it's not something Warren wants on the streets.
That gun cost about $1,000 new, but would sell to a collector for perhaps twice that amount now, Warren said. And many of the other guns were worth even more.
Warren is a former Navy man whose hobby makes him more knowledgeable about guns than many police officers. Fifteen months after the theft, he still gets animated when describing his guns - the Ducks Unlimited gun that had never been touched without gloves, the twin Desert Eagles - as well as collectibles like his grandfather's irreplaceable watch.
In addition to the gun Stockton police found, a couple of them were found in a traffic stop by Stockton Unified School District police, Rafiq said. A couple more were found in Sacramento.
Each time police have found the guns, they've run computer checks on the serial numbers, learned the firearms were stolen and then arrested the suspects. The guns were then booked into evidence and eventually word got back to Lodi police.
But by then the suspects had gone to court and gotten lawyers, so Rafiq has been unable to talk to them to find out where they got the guns. Rafiq said he has a pretty good idea how the guns were successfully stolen, though he doesn't have enough independent proof.
So for now he and Warren are waiting, hoping the stolen firearms aren't used to commit a heinous crime.