Crime & Courts Richmond Co. | Columbia Co. | Aiken Co. |

Grave-looting part of new black market for artifacts

Friday, April 26, 2013 4:19 PM
Last updated Saturday, April 27, 2013 1:45 AM
  • Follow Crime & courts

It’s hardly a place anyone would expect to look for valuable artifacts, but the graves of Confederate soldiers could be the new black market source for war collectibles.

As TV shows such as PBS’ Antiques Roadshow and History Channel’s American Pickers and Pawn Stars attract millions of viewers, criminals are going to extreme measures to find buried treasure.

In Burke County, two men are accused of desecrating and looting the Old Church Cemetery graves of five soldiers in search of heirlooms.

Though grave-robbing ranks among the most heinous property crimes, the rewards can be profitable. One button off a Confederate uniform from the Civil War can sell for as much as $150. Uniforms and medals range in value from $500 to several thousand dollars. A general’s or officer’s sword can go for between $20,000 and $30,000, antiques brokers say.

“There’s money in it,” said Paul Henry, a co-owner of Henry Brothers Auction Co. in downtown Augusta.

At the core of the black-market trade of historic war relics, experts say, is the inability to easily verify the history of Confederate artifacts, which hold more value because the government was dissolved in 1865 after the end of the Civil War.

The lack of background data enables private dealers and online collectors to sell large quantities of stolen artifacts under claims they are the heirloom of a distant relative, Henry said.

Confederate antiques rarely show up in auction houses and history museums because those businesses contract with licensed dealers, require a driver’s license for purchase or track items through the International Criminal Police Organization.
Henry estimates he has sold two war items in the past five years.

Scott Shepherd, the owner of Trends and Traditions Antique Mall on Washington Road, said his stock of Civil War artifacts is largely limited to Confederate bills. Still, he said, “There’s definitely a market for it.”

“With the way the economy is, we get a lot of people coming through here attempting to sell stolen items to make a quick buck,” he said.
Grave-robbing, though, is a new occurrence.

Pat Morgan, a special agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s field office in Thomson, says Burke County’s case was the first he has seen in the state.

“This is the only time I have heard of a case such as this one in my 15 years as GBI agent,” Morgan said.

Nancy Glaser, the executive director at the Augusta Museum of History, said that although there is a black market for stolen artifacts, law enforcement worldwide are getting better at stopping the problem.

The museum has a fairly substantial military collection, specifically from the Civil War. Each item must have a clear record of ownership before it is accepted.

In her career as a curator, Glaser said, she has experienced only one case similar to Burke County’s.

She reported that incident, in Kentucky, to state police. The defendants went to prison.

“If anything walks in the door that looks shady,” Glaser said, “you report it immediately.”

Comments (6) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
GiantsAllDay 04/26/13 - 06:38 pm

That's so sad that he had to do this. Anyway, we all should call on the georgia general assembly to, in their next session, SIGNIFICANTLY increase the penalties for these atrocious acts.

Bodhisattva 04/27/13 - 02:17 pm
Does anyone show concern for

Does anyone show concern for what the source of any Native American artifacts you see might be?

my.voice 04/28/13 - 08:23 am
We're officially on the

We're officially on the bottom when we dig up our forefathers for profit.

historylover 04/28/13 - 09:11 am
There are those people who

There are those people who walk among us every day who see no problem stealing from Native American burial sites and yet get very angry when the same is done to our white ancestors. All grave robbery should be covered by the federal authorities. State governments can not control what is sold online and overseas. I personally have met an antique dealer who regularly dug up Indian burial sites along the Savannah River and also a man who is very involved in the commemoration of the Civil War who saw no problem going onto people's private property at night to dig up artifacts. I turned both of them into the local authorities. Every citizen should do the same.

Darby 04/28/13 - 06:03 pm
"Does anyone show concern for

what the source of any Native American artifacts you see might be?"

So predictable, so amazingly predictable.

Darby 04/28/13 - 07:07 pm
"There are those people who walk among

us every day who see no problem stealing from Native American burial sites and yet get very angry when the same is done to our white ancestors."

My response: There are those people who walk among us every day who see no problem stealing from our white ancestors and yet get very angry when the same is done to Native American burial sites.

Every coin has two sides.

Either position you take can make you feel superior to "those" other folks. Fortunately, most of us understand that feeling is unwarranted and unjustified. Just another way of saying, "Hey look at me!"

Truth is, there are plenty of caring people who are concerned about desecration no matter whose heritage is being plundered.

Of course there are always those who would justify robbing the graves of Civil War soldiers by projecting the stain of "slavery" on those who aren't able to defend themselves.

gaj265 04/29/13 - 02:58 pm
Doing It For Money

I am pretty sure that grave robbers are looking more for profit than anything and that they could care less what race, nationality, or skin color they dig up. These are not people with ANY morals whatsoever, so I doubt that any gravesite is sacred to them.

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs