Centuries-Old Violin Remains Missing after Heist from California Museum

205-year-old violin was replaced with cheap imitation; theft was not noticed until performer came to borrow violin


Behind the tranquil surroundings and the thick mission walls, the Mystery of the Missing Violin has not yet been solved.

The priceless 205-year-old violin, crafted by an American Indian at Mission San Antonio de Padua, was discovered stolen from the mission museum last year.

The theft had gone unnoticed until John Warren, director of New World Baroque Orchestra, discovered that the violin was missing when he showed up at the mission to borrow the instrument last summer for a concert at the Santa Barbara Mission.

The thief had apparently lifted the valuable violin from its unlocked glass case and replaced it with a basic model student instrument.

Warren had refurbished the old violin and had used it several times for concerts, so he recognized the fake immediately.

The violin was crafted from pine and other local wood in 1798 by Jose Carbajal, a Salinan Indian who wanted to play in a dance band at the mission, according to the historical records.

The violin was donated to the museum in the 1970s by descendants of Carbajal.

No value has been placed on the missing instrument, said Monterey County Sheriff's Detective Jim Miller.

"It's not a Stradivarius, but it's very unique because of where it came from," he said.

During various times in the course of the investigation, Miller found two violins that he thought might have been the missing instrument. Warren determined both times that they were not, however.

"They just sort of turned up," he said. "They were old, but neither of them was the one we were looking for."

Miller said he has a "good idea" where the violin might be, but is not divulging his theory because the investigation is continuing.