Heavy lifting: The case of the purloined Sheraton

When Dot Daniels sold the cottage on East Rio Road she'd lived in for 53 years and needed to downsize, she asked Emily Rhinelander to help her with an estate sale.

Rhinelander had a few items she wanted to sell, too, including an 18th-century Sheraton chest that had been appraised at $7,000.

The February 1-2 sale was a big success, and even though Rhinelander didn't sell the chest– which she'd priced at $4,200– she thought the exposure to other dealers would be good.

On February 3, the Monday after the sale, Rhinelander was back at the red cottage to figure out what to do with the items that were left. That's when she noticed her Sheraton was missing.

"I thought maybe somebody had moved it," says Rhinelander, because items were constantly being sold and moved around during the sale. She checked with others who'd been there, and discovered with a sinking feeling that no one had seen it. That's when she called the police and noticed that a window in the house was broken.

"On Friday and Saturday nights, we'd had someone stay in the house," says Rhinelander. "We had a person stationed in each room during the sale to supervise, so no one walked off with anything."

But no one was there Sunday night, when at least two people broke in and took the chest that Rhinelander says was too big for one person to move.

Her husband, Charles, thinks the estate sale that 500 people attended was a great set-up for those inclined to larceny. "It was busy at times. There was a chance to go through, find the item you want, and find a good window," he says.

"This is the perfect crime because on the second day, nobody really knows what's missing," he adds.

Pat Powell of Harlowe-Powell Auction does a lot of estate sales, and he calls the theft a shock. "A Sheraton chest is a fairly large object," he says.

"It sounds like an audacious thing, and you'd need two people," says Norman Dill, who frequents a lot of estate sales to find merchandise for his store, the Consignment House.

Neither had ever heard of such a substantial piece of furniture being heisted from an estate sale. More typical, says Powell, is someone lifting a small item. "That's why we try to have people stationed around," he says.

And the Sheraton chest was not the only unlikely item taken. Dot Daniels had four heavy concrete flowerpots that she estimates would be worth about $150 each outside the house. Her granddaughter was taking them but hadn't picked them up yet. "They just dumped the dirt," before spiriting them away, she complains of the thieves.

"I lived here for 53 years, 19 by myself, and nobody ever bothered me," she says. She's amazed that outside lights and her house's busy Rio Road location didn't deter the thieves.

Emily Rhinelander intends to check with local antique dealers to see if her hot Sheraton turns up. "That's what's bizarre to us," she says. "It's not going to be an easy thing to sell. It's not that portable. Maybe an antique lover took it."

While the Rhinelanders are shaken by the theft, their insurance should provide some consolation. "The ironic thing is," says Charles, "although it was valued at $7,000, we could never sell it for $7,000. We never sold it at $4,800, at $4,200, or at $3,800."