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Theft of Maris memorabilia from West Acres remains a mystery

The Roger Maris Museum at West Acres Shopping Center will house the S Rae Hickok Award which was bestowd upon Roger Maris in 1961. Colburn Hvidston III / Forum News Service1 / 4
Chris Heaton, West Acres Mall property manager, and Fargo Assistant Police Chief Joe Anderson, speak Tuesday, July 26, 2016, about the Roger Maris Museum theft in the mall. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 4
Fargo native Roger Maris received the S. Rae Hickok Belt in a ceremony in Rochester, N.Y., on Jan. 22, 1962. He's shown here posing with the belt and Ray Hickock, the grandson of the award's namesake. Photo courtesy of HickockBelt.com3 / 4
Workers inspect damage that was done to the Roger Maris Museum at the West Acres mall July 26. Dave Olson / Forum News Service4 / 4

FARGO — When it comes to unusual crimes in the Fargo-Moorhead area, the theft of baseball treasures from the Roger Maris museum in the West Acres shopping mall in July must rank somewhere near the top for its brazenness and mystery.

Surveillance cameras captured some of the story: A thief dressed in a security guard-like uniform smashed through an exterior mall door, ran to a glass display, smashed a window of that display and grabbed two items before swiftly leaving the mall.

It took just about a minute.

Since then, law enforcement agencies — which now include the FBI — have been searching for the perpetrators; a getaway driver is believed to have been involved.

Authorities are also looking for the two pieces of Maris memorabilia that were taken in the smash and grab — a 1961 S. Rae Hickok Belt that was given to Maris, a Fargo native, after he broke Babe Ruth's single-season homerun record in 1961 and Maris' 1960 American League Most Valuable Player award, a silver plate.

The estimated value of the items exceeds $100,000, according to court records.

Since then, there have been no major breaks in the case, said Chris Heaton, the mall's property manager.

"We haven't been informed of any new big leads at this point. If there was a big break in the case, they would let us know right away," Heaton said, referring to Fargo police and federal agents who are working the case.

One intriguing bit of information surfaced in search warrant documents filed in Cass County District Court, which sought cellphone tower data from around the time the break-in occurred.

Court documents indicate FBI and police officials in the eastern United States were curious to know whether the Fargo case might be linked to memorabilia thefts in New Jersey and the state of New York, crimes that were outlined in a 2013 New York Times article.

According to the article, a thief struck the U.S. Golf Association Museum in Bernards Township, N.J., in early 2012, taking the U.S. Amateur trophy and a replica of golf legend Ben Hogan's Hickok Belt, which was made of alligator skin and had a solid gold buckle and a four-carat diamond.

Hogan received the belt in 1953 for being the nation's top pro athlete.

Just a week earlier, the Times story said, the same thief is believed to have hit the Somerset Hills Country Club — located about 15 minutes away from the golf association museum — and made off with some trophies.

Also around that time, a thief hit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., stealing five trophies valued at an estimated $500,000.

Three of the trophies were made of significant amounts of gold, while two were made of silver.

The Times story also stated that someone broke into the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., in December 2012 and snatched the Memphis Gold Challenge Cup, the gold Weaver Loving Cup, a Tiffany basket-shaped bowl, and 10 other trophies dating from 1895 to 1946.

The Times article said the locations were in sleepy neighborhoods with security limited to alarms and some surveillance cameras, and all were hit quickly at night.

Since the Fargo theft, West Acres has instituted a number of changes in security, which Heaton declined to talk about at length.

Although there has been no major break in the Fargo case, Heaton is optimistic that will change.

"We don't expect the case to have a quick resolution," he said, "but we're still hopeful that in time we will get a resolution on it."

After the theft, he heard from many Maris fans who offered their sympathies.

"A lot of fans of Roger Maris all over the country were sad to hear about this and they let us know they were upset by what happened," Heaton said. "We appreciate that."

Dave Olson
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