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'I was really happy to get it back'

Becky Vargo • Feb 10, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Dan Wiebenga said he forgot about the shotgun that was stolen 40 years ago. The insurance company paid the Grand Haven man’s claim and life continued through marriage to Carolyn, the birth of their children and now their grandchildren.

But last summer, Wiebenga received an interesting call: A gun believed to be his was recovered in Texas. Did he want it?

Wiebenga said he and his younger brother, Dale, had been deer hunting the day his Ithaca 20-gauge pump shotgun disappeared in 1977.

“We threw our guns in the back of the truck, put our hunting clothes on top of them and then went into Mr. Fables,” he said, referring to a restaurant that used to sit on the northwest corner of Beacon Boulevard and Robbins Road in Grand Haven. When the young men came out of the restaurant, Wiebenga’s gun was gone.

“You didn’t think much about stuff getting stolen back then,” he said.

Their dad’s gun, which the younger brother was using, was still there, Wiebenga said.

Wiebenga filed a police report, eventually received a check from the insurance company and bought a new gun from Kooiman Sporting Goods, which he said was located at the corner of Seventh and Fulton streets in Grand Haven. 

The new 12-gauge cost about $140. “I still use it once in a while,” he said.

Lt. Joe Boyle of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety said he received a call from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department in Austin, Texas, in June 2016, saying they had recovered a gun during a traffic stop in May. The young man driving the stopped vehicle told them he had guns in the trunk. The one that turned out to be stolen belonged to his teenage step-brother.

“(The step-brother) was only 17, so they know he wasn’t the one who stole it,” Wiebenga said.

Police thought it was very unlikely that the pair had any idea that it was a stolen gun, so they were not charged, Boyle said.

Boyle found the 1977 report on the stolen gun in the Grand Haven department’s basement storage room. From there, he was able to find insurance company contact information.

A representative from the insurance company said that Wiebenga was still one of their customers. They decided to hand over the gun and not ask for reimbursement due to the amount of time since the claim. 

Wiebenga wonders where the gun has been for the past 40 years. He said it is in good condition, considering its age and how far it has traveled.

“I was really happy to get it back,” he said. “That was the first gun I bought new.”

The police report noted that the gun had been purchased in 1970 for $119.95.

“It’s kind of nice that computer technology has been able to help us resolve cases like this,” Boyle said.

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