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Grand Theft Marsupial

Priceless specimens pilfered from Hall of Science display.

The display case in the basement of the Hall of Science is left empty after someone stole valuable specimens used as teaching materials.

The display case in the basement of the Hall of Science is left empty after someone stole valuable specimens used as teaching materials.

Adam R. Thomas

Adam R. Thomas

The display case in the basement of the Hall of Science is left empty after someone stole valuable specimens used as teaching materials.

Adam R. Thomas, Staff Writer

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Several preserved marsupial specimens of potentially immeasurable value were stolen from a basement display case in the Cal State Long Beach Hall of Science.

The theft was discovered by Hall of Science employees on Feb. 27, though the actual crime may have occurred over the weekend of Feb. 25-26.

According to assistant professor of biology Ted Stankowich, the stolen specimens were a mix of skulls, skins and bone molds of several rare marsupial species used for research and teaching purposes. The stolen molds were recently purchased and valued at around $800, but the rest of the stolen items were difficult to appraise due to their rarity.

“[The specimens] are valuable because they’re really hard to replace,” Stankowich said. “These things don’t live around here. There were some things [stolen] that I don’t know how we’ll get another one. A lot of stuff, we have samples of the same animal, or same family, but any time you lose these things, it’s hard.”

The specimens had been put into the glass display case across from the Hall of Science’s basement elevator a week prior to the theft. According to Stankowich and Suellen Jacob, the Vertebrate Collections Specialist who first discovered the missing marsupials, there were signs the display had been opened, though there was no damage done to the case itself and it was discovered locked.

Stankowich said that he could not figure out who would want to take the specimens, as they had far more value as teaching tools. Stankovich also said that it would be difficult to make money off of stolen goods on the open market because the marsupial specimens originate from Australia and it is illegal to sell specimens of foreign species without a permit. There was also “little rhyme or reason” to what was removed from the case, according to Stankowich, as many of the most valuable specimens on display were left behind.

“Opportunistic scum!” Jacob said. “I don’t think they knew what they were doing because otherwise they would have taken the Tasmanian devil skull, which is stupid, but it’s true. They took a bunch of other [specimens] that are really not familiar to people around here except to us.”

Jacob discovered the crime because, in addition to her other duties, she was in charge of managing the display case. Jacob said that she remembered finding the display case locked, but that the items within it were often changing, so it was difficult to be certain if the case had been found unlocked.

“The [items in the case] rotate constantly,” Jacob said. “The cases are used for classes during the term. We put out things that are related to the next test. Some of these items are really cool, like a cat display we had with nice spotted pelts. That’s why it sounds very opportunistic, because we put stuff in there all the time and some of it is really cool, but they just showed up and grabbed some stuff that is not necessarily the coolest.”

According to Lt. Richard Goodwin of the University Police Department, the high dollar amount of the stolen goods made the crime count as grand theft, and potentially a burglary, both felony counts. Goodwin also said that while an investigation is ongoing, he would not comment on its status.  

Though the opportunistic nature of the crime could indicate a student as a suspect, Stankowich was hesitant to point suspicion in that direction as there are also workers and faculty with weekend access to the Hall of Science. At the end of the day, though, Stankowich did not care much about who may have taken the artifacts.

“We want them back,” Stankowich said. “If we got them back, no questions asked, we would be fine with that. At this point we think that’s highly unlikely, but [the specimens] are really more valuable to us as a teaching tool and nothing else. We’re all just really disappointed, but hopeful that we’ll be able to replace them. We’re going to look ahead, and do our best to move on from here.”

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