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Another Civil War hat caper
Confederate army hat missing from Spotsylvania Museum; Culpeper museum previously reported a missing Union hat


Date published: 7/7/2005

By BILL FREEHLING

Union and Confederate army hats are missing from two area museums--and police think they may be dealing with related thefts.

A Confederate hat disappeared from the Spotsylvania Museum sometime in late May or early June, museum Director Martha Carter said yesterday.

She suspects the hat was taken from an unlocked glass display case during regular museum hours.

A Union hat was reported missing from a locked display case at the Museum of Culpeper History sometime after June 11, museum officials announced last week.

Carter said the missing Confederate hat once belonged to a soldier named Cush Hart. Ralph Johnson gave it to the museum when he was Spotsylvania's sheriff, Carter said.

The hat wasn't insured. Carter said she reported the theft to the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office, but there have been no arrests.

She suspects the thief was a man who said he was from Rockville, Md., and who scribbled an illegible name into the guest book.

She said the man took pictures inside the museum for two days, which he shouldn't have been allowed to do. She said the hat was on the top shelf of a glass case, in clear view.

"He knew exactly what he wanted," Carter said.

The missing Union hat belonged to a soldier named Jeremiah Helleck and was loaned to the Culpeper museum in 1978.

Zann Miner, director of the Culpeper museum, said it probably was taken during regular hours. She thinks a display cases's two panels of glass were pushed apart to allow access with a hook.

"It's a sad thing," said Miner, who suspects the theft involved more than one person.

Sgt. Richard Brooking, who is investigating the case for the Culpeper Police Department, agrees. He said one person could have distracted staff while the other stole the heirloom.

Brooking said the Spotsylvania and Culpeper cases may be related. He said these types of thefts are rarely isolated incidents.

Brooking noted that there are many Civil War enthusiasts, and there would probably be a market for the missing heirlooms.

He said he's informed state and regional police departments about the thefts. There are no suspects yet.

Both museums have been upgrading their security systems since the incidents.

Miner said Culpeper staff members have added more locks to displays, and are watching visitors more closely. The Spotsylvania museum has added locks to display cases, Carter said.

To reach BILL FREEHLING: 540/374-5424 bfreehling@freelancestar.com