THE GREAT YREKA COURTHOUSE GOLD HEIST

BY BOB KASTER

Ten part series published beginning September 18, 2019, Siskiyou Daily News

On the morning of February 1, 2012, before the general public began entering the Siskiyou County courthouse in Yreka, California, County Maintenance Supervisor Billy McCully and two others entered the building on their way to work.  Once inside, they were shocked to discover that the gold display, located in the front entryway, had been severely compromised.  For decades the display had proudly displayed a fortune in gold discovered in the hills, mountains, rivers and streams of Siskiyou County since the 1850’s.  They saw that a hole had been smashed in one of the glass panels of the display large enough for a man to put his arm through, and that a significant portion of the contents of the display was gone!

1 – History of the Gold Display

Yreka is a small, rural town in Northern California with a population of approximately 7,700 people.  It is surrounded by forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains, dominated by Mount Shasta towering to an elevation of 14,180 feet about thirty-five miles to the south.  Yreka is the county seat of Siskiyou County, the fifth-largest county by area in California, but with a population of only about 45,000 people.

The town has a colorful history, and began its existence in March, 1851, when Abraham Thompson, a mule train packer, discovered gold while traveling along the Siskiyou Trail from Southern Oregon. He found flakes of gold in the grass near where his mule was feeding.  The word rapidly spread of Thompson’s discovery, and within two months some 2,000 miners showed up to seek their fortunes, creating a boom-town that caused poet-writer Joaquin Miller, a colorful character in his own right, to describe Yreka in 1853 to 1854 as a bustling place with “… a tide of people up and down and across other streets, as strong as if a city on the East Coast.”

The settlement was originally known as “Thompson’s Dry Diggins,” but was soon re-named Yreka.  There are at least two theories as to how the town got its name.

Many people believe the name comes from a word in the language of the Shasta Tribe meaning “north mountain” or “white mountain.”

Probably less accurate but more colorful was Mark Twain’s version:

“(Bret) Harte had arrived in California in the fifties, twenty-three or twenty-four years old, and had wandered up into the surface diggings of the camp at Yreka, a place which had acquired its mysterious name – when in its first days it much needed a name – through an accident.  There was a bakeshop with a canvas sign which had not yet been put up but had been painted and stretched to dry in such a way that the word BAKERY, all but the B, showed through and was reversed.  A stranger read it wrong end first, YREKA, and supposed that that was the name of the camp.  The campers were satisfied with it and adopted it.”

Mark Twain was a satirist, and often his historical accounts were less than accurate.  But Twain’s version, that the town’s name was based on a palindrome of the word bakery, makes a great story.

Although the gold rush that resulted from Abraham Thompson’s discovery was fairly brief, it was intense, and much gold was extracted by various means.  Gold mining continues to this day to be a big deal, primarily along the Klamath River and its tributaries.  It is mostly recreational, but commercial gold mining operations have come and gone over the years since the mid-1850s, depending on the price of gold.

We associate Yreka and Siskiyou County with many wonders in addition to gold mining.  Recreational opportunities abound with our forests, mountains, rivers, streams, and lakes.  Timber and agriculture have always been important to our economy and culture.  But gold mining captures the very essence of what Yreka is all about.  This is evident everywhere you look.  The primary east/west downtown street is Miner Street.  The Yreka High School sports teams are the Miners.  The local Best Western hotel is the Miner’s Inn.  The great Ralph Starritt sculpture of a miner and his mule greets people exiting the center I-5 freeway offramp into town.  Every year the town and Chamber of Commerce sponsor “Gold Rush Days,” on Miner Street, billed as an “old west festival honoring our Gold Rush heritage,” complete with gun-fight reenactments, beer garden, pony rides, vendors, and food.

This is why the gold theft from the courthouse and from the people of Siskiyou County is so tragic.  It’s bad enough that the appraised value of the stolen gold and other items was $1,257,500.00.  The value of the loss to our citizens is many times that.  And the punishment that the perpetrators received was inadequate, and out of proportion to the crime.

The gold display had existed and been a work in progress for decades.  At one time it was reportedly the largest gold display in the continental United States and was exhibited at the 1938 World’s Fair in San Francisco. 

The gold was beautifully housed in a glass case near the front entrance door of the courthouse, where it could be viewed and admired by anyone entering the building.  It contained gold in many forms: nuggets, flakes, dust, and jewelry.  Some of the gold had been purchased by the county government over the years, but much had been contributed or placed on “permanent loan” for the county to display.  One of the contributors was my good friend, Virgil Nesbitt.  Virgil died July 18, 2011, at age 91, a few months before the theft of his gold occurred in the early morning of February 1, 2012.  If he was up there, looking down, he would have been horrified at what was occurring.  Later, though, he might have smiled at least a little, because one of his gifts to the gold display, a gold Waltham watch, a wedding gift from his father, George Nesbitt, a gold miner, to his mother, Belle Nesbitt, became an important clue leading to the arrest of the thieves.  More on that later.

The theft in the wee hours of February 1, 2012 wasn’t the first attempt to steal the gold. In 1979 Harold Arthur Bates gave it a try, with an unsatisfactory result (for him).  What follows is an excerpt from a decision of the Court of Appeal of California, Third District, December 17, 1980, People v. Bates (113 Cal. App.3d 481), written by Presiding Justice Robert K. Puglia.   Justice Puglia was a law school classmate and friend of Judge James Kleaver.  Judge Kleaver was my predecessor as Siskiyou County Superior Court judge.  I had met and talked to Justice Puglia on several occasions, mostly conferences, and also when he attended Judge Kleaver’s retirement ceremony.   Justice Puglia wrote:

“On November 1, 1979, in the early morning hours, Yreka Police Officer Ronald Quigley responded to a silent alarm that had been triggered at the Siskiyou County courthouse.  He heard the sound of pounding from within and spotted defendant inside the building at the display case which contained specimens of the county’s gold nugget collection.  Quigley saw tools in defendant’s hands and observed him pull a sack from beneath his shirt.  The pounding continued followed by the sound of breaking glass.  Officers responding to Quigley’s call for assistance soon surrounded the courthouse.  Defendant departed through the back door and was pursued by officers on foot.  Following a chase lasting three to four minutes, defendant was apprehended in the vicinity of the courthouse.  As he fled, defendant dropped a pair of bolt cutters, a glove and a sack containing gold nuggets.  All of the stolen gold was immediately recovered.  Expert testimony established its value to be in excess of $100,000.00”

The value of the gold probably was much more than $100,000.00, but exceeding $100,000.00 was all that the prosecution needed to prove.  The defendant in the 1979 theft was sentenced to the middle term of two years with a two-year consecutive enhancement due to the value of the stolen property exceeding $100,000.00, for a total term of four years in state prison.  The defendant’s appeal of the two-year enhancement was denied by the Appellate Court.  Justice Puglia, a master with words, described it as follows:

“Defendant argues that the taking of the gold was of a duration so brief that it constituted nothing more than a temporary dispossession of the county’s property and was not, therefore, a ‘loss’ within the meaning of (the enhancement statute).  Unabashed by the paradox, defendant now seeks to benefit from the very police effectiveness which he earlier did his utmost to frustrate, albeit unsuccessfully.”

The sentence seems just, especially since the gold was recovered.  Unfortunately, some thirty-three years later, when Mr. David Dean Johnson and Mr. Scott Wayne Bailey clumsily but effectively stole $1,257,500.00 worth of gold from the people of Siskiyou County, the scales of justice didn’t work so well.

2 – Burglars Inside the Courthouse

Fast forward to January 31, 2012.  Video footage captured by security cameras inside the courthouse shows two people breaking into the gold display case located at the front entrance.  Watching these guys at work is almost laughable, a Three Stooges routine.  Their faces were covered and they had socks on their hands.  Although the glass had been reinforced after the 1979 attempt, they pried and smashed a hole in it, large enough to reach an arm into the case and grab portions of the contents; major valuable portions.  This time the silent alarm was … silent.  It didn’t activate.

Several surveillance camera videos showed two people roaming around the first floor of the courthouse on January 31, 2012, and February 1, 2012, more or less bumping into each other.  The first image was time-stamped “2354.30 hrs” (around 11:54 PM) on January 31st.  The final image was time-stamped “0115.15 hrs” (around 1:15 AM) on February 1st, and depicted the subjects leaving the front desk area.  How long they were actually in the courthouse before and after they were filmed in the videos is unknown, but the cameras documented them on the first floor of the courthouse for at least 80 minutes.  The videos depicted two people, heads and faces covered, with what looked like socks on their hands.  The subjects were shown moving around the first floor, one of them crawling on his belly at one point, returning several times to the display case, making several attempts to break it open, prying and turning off the display case light switch, turning off the ceiling lights on the first floor, and finally returning to the case with a fire extinguisher, which was apparently the object successfully used to break the glass.

The theft wasn’t discovered until the next morning, when people started entering the courthouse to go to work.  Much of the following information is taken from a report prepared by Sheriff’s detective Bob Buker, who was dispatched at 7:25 AM, February 1, 2012.  He was the first Sheriff’s officer to investigate the scene.  When he arrived, he was met by Yreka Police Department Officer Kash Hasemeyer, who was maintaining a scene log, and who then turned the scene over to Buker. 

The initial report of the break-in was made by Siskiyou County Maintenance Supervisor Billy McCully, who spotted it when he and two others entered the building on their way to work.  The two men with McCully noticed the fire extinguisher was missing from the emergency fire case. Together the two of them looked for it and found it sitting on the floor near the gold display case in the front lobby of the courthouse.   

Buker and other officers walked around outside the building and found two white socks and an article of black clothing.

The courthouse actually consists of two separate buildings adjacent to each other.  The historic building in the back is fascinating.  Originally built in 1857, the two-story courthouse served Yreka until 1896, when north and south wings and a cupola were added to it.  It is of historic interest that Susan B. Anthony addressed a large audience from the steps of the original structure in 1871.  The original 1857 structure, including the 1896 additions, was quite beautiful.

In 1954, the county undertook a major courthouse improvement project, and built a much larger, more modern but less attractive, structure right in front of the old building, blocking its view from the street.

The new building was situated about five feet in front of the old building, leaving a space, or “breezeway” between the two.  Entrance into the breezeway is blocked at both ends by chain-link locked gates, climbable by a person in reasonably good physical shape.  The view of the space between the buildings is surreal.  The buildings do not touch, and are connected only by an enclosed hallway and staircase that seem to be floating in air.  A visitor inside the courthouse would not be aware that the two buildings are not attached.

Detective Buker found one white sock on the ground near but not within the breezeway separating the two buildings.  He found another white sock hanging on the locked gate at the north end of the breezeway, and an article of black clothing on the ground inside the breezeway. 

Officers Hassemeyer and Buker determined that the likely point of entry was an open window in the downstairs men’s restroom.  The men’s restroom window opens into the breezeway.  There was no exterior video surveillance camera monitoring the breezeway or its environs. 

The Court Security station is located at the main entrance near the gold display case.  People entering the courthouse go through security screening at this station.  The courthouse closes at 5:00 PM each day.  The deputy working the station at the end of the day reported that on the afternoon of the burglary he was at there until 5:15 PM monitoring surveillance cameras as employees left the building.  He then cleared the public areas within the courthouse.  While clearing the men’s restroom he checked the stalls, but did not notice an open window or feel a draft.  He left the building at 5:30 PM.  However, investigators later determined that an exterior surveillance video filmed David Dean Johnson with a blue Chevrolet pickup outside the courthouse the morning of the burglary.  He or an accomplice easily could have entered the restroom and unlocked the window just enough that it wouldn’t be noticed except under close scrutiny.  This information did not become significant until later, when the investigation began to specifically focus on Johnson and Bailey.

The last person to enter the building on January 31, 2012, other than the perpetrators, was Lee Sickendick, owner of the janitorial business that serviced the courthouse.  He went in at 5:10 PM.  The first person to enter the building the next morning, other than the perpetrators, was Superior Court Judge Donald Langford, who went in at 6:31 AM.  Because it was not during normal hours when the courthouse was open to the public, they used the back door.  People who work in the courthouse on a regular basis, including the judges, are issued electronic identification fobs that enable entry through the back door.  The back door utilized a sensor that “read” the entrant’s fob, unlocked the door, and recorded the person’s identity and time of entry.  Having retired from the bench in June 2008, I was still taking occasional judicial assignments when the break-in occurred, but wasn’t in the building that particular day.  I asked Judge Langford if he saw anything unusual when he went in that morning, and he said he did not.  It was his usual practice to come in early in the morning to prepare for the day’s cases.  He entered through the back door, about 30 feet from the display case, but his chambers were in the basement, so he went from the back door directly to the basement stairs, and would not have had direct line-of-sight to the display.  When I was still a judge, coming in early through the back door was my practice as well, but my chambers were on the second floor.  I would have walked around the staircase toward the front of the building, then climbed the stairs to the second floor, and would have been about five feet from the case.  I can be pretty oblivious sometimes, but I’m sure even I would have noticed the gaping hole in the glass. Had I been there, it would have been a frightening experience, knowing that I was the only one in the building, with the possible exception of burglars.

3 – $1,257,500.00

On May 7, 2012, the Siskiyou County government obtained a detailed appraisal report from Pacific Gemological Laboratory, Inc (PGL) estimating the stolen gold and jewelry to have a total replacement value of $1,257,500.00.  The report was based on before-and-after photos of the display and documentation of the history of the gold provided by County Treasurer/Tax Collector Wayne Hammar, the custodian of the display and its contents.  The price of gold on the date of the theft was $1,740.00 per ounce.  The report was quite detailed, the author stating:

 “There are 18 sections and 31 pages in this report and it is valid only in it’s (sic) entirety.  The final figure excludes any and all taxes.  You may wish to take them into consideration when using the report.  The value conclusions are subject to limiting conditions that are set forth in the body of the report.  To the best of my knowledge and experience, I estimate the jewelry has a total Replacement Value of $1.257,500.00.”

Most of the items taken were gold nuggets, but there were also jewelry items bearing gold, such as a ring, cufflinks, necklace, bracelets, a tie bar, and the yellow gold pocket watch contributed by Virgil Nesbit.  The report goes on:

“The most appropriate market for this assignment for the gold nugget & specimen gold is the auction and established companies that specifically purchase and sell California nugget.  The values acquired for this assignment were based on such dealers in the gold market that deal in the California gold nugget and specimens.  The research varied depending upon the article’s age, condition, quality, intrinsic content, aesthetic appeal, provenance, current fashion trends, and artistic interpretation.  The jewelry items were researched with comparable pieces made during the specific period and have been sold recently, verified as California gold nugget. … They were all documented with Siskiyou County, California as California gold nugget; the nuggets that have been stolen are extremely rare and are no longer available from this region.”

Of special mention in the appraisal itemization is “The Shoe” nugget from Scott River.  The large shoe-shaped nugget measured 5 7/8 inches in length, and weighed 28.01 ounces, the gold content ranging from 83-97%.  The display placard read:

“Found at Scott River by John Storg, this specimen is called the ‘shoe’ nugget because of its foot-shaped appearance.  Scott Valley Bank arranged for Siskiyou County to purchase the nugget from Mr. Shorb in 1913 for $550.” 

I have been unable to determine if “John Storg” and “Mr. Shorb” were actually two different people, or if there was simply a typo on the placard.  The value assigned to “The Shoe” was $174,225,00.

“Item 7” of the appraisal is of special interest to me.  It reads as follows:

“Yellow gold pocket watch.  The pocket watch is set atop a square block, measuring 57.00 X 77.00 mm.  Estimated size 18, having a white dial, roman numerals; sub second hand with side wind.
Placard from this watch reads:
‘Solid gold watch.  Wedding gift from George Nesbitt of Scott Bar to Belle Simon Nesbitt, December 22, 1898.  Donor, Virgil Nesbitt, son.’
Total Approximate Replacement Value (Comparable) Excluding Tax  $2,500.00”

4 – DNA Testing

The discovery of the broken-into display case the morning of February 1, 2012, set in motion a multi-agency investigation ultimately involving officers and agents from the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department, the Yreka Police Department, the Redding Police Department, the El Cerrito Police Department, the FBI, and criminalists from the California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department assumed control of the investigation, with assistance from the various other agencies.  They cordoned off the main courthouse entry doors, the area surrounding the display case, and portions of the first floor.  This made it necessary to make the back door of the courthouse the temporary entrance for the employees and general public, and to set up security equipment and procedures for that purpose.

The burglars entered the building through an open window of a restroom on the first floor.  They then jimmied open a door leading from the hallway into a room that contained maintenance and janitorial supplies.  A locked drawer in this room contained keys for the building, suggesting that the burglars might have had some inside information, which has never been verified.  They also entered into and ransacked the room directly adjacent to the gold display, the county’s Information Technology (IT) office, and in general roamed the first-floor hallway before successfully breaking into the display case.  It would appear that, in entering the IT office, the burglars were attempting to figure out how to disarm the silent alarm.

The display case itself was protected by a silent alarm furnished and maintained by Diebold, Inc., a huge multi-national corporation that has existed since 1859.  A breach of the display case should have activated a silent alarm that was monitored 24/7.

The courthouse entry doors, windows, and premises were not protected by an alarm system, but video surveillance cameras were located throughout the building.  They fairly clearly captured the comings-and-goings of the burglars throughout their visit within the courthouse.

During the initial crime scene investigation, criminalists from the California Department of Justice (DOJ) collected from the Sheriff’s deputies the pair of socks and black shirt, which were believed to have been worn by the suspects during the burglary and discarded outside the courthouse.  DOJ criminalists also collected an opened juice bottle from inside the IT office, which employees said had not been opened when they left the previous day. These items were submitted to the California Bureau of Forensic Services Regional Laboratory in Redding for DNA testing.

The resulting report included the following verbatim language:

“The following evidence was collected from the scene at the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka, CA and transported to the DOJ Redding Laboratory on February 1, 2012:
Sock ‘found on ground by North side of court house’ Sock ‘found on fence on North side of court house’ Black t-shirt ‘found inside of fence on North side of court house’ Metal piece ‘found on ledge of display case’
Swab’s (sic) from suspect (Sickendick)
Vita A Water Bottle
The dirty white socks were visually examined and digitally photographed …  Two sets of sterile swabs were used to collect possible wearer DNA from the inside of the socks.
The short-sleeved black t-shirt was visually examined and digitally photographed … Two sterile swabs were used to collect possible wearer DNA from the inside collar, top and back shoulder area, and upper back of the shirt.
The plastic ‘VitaRain’ drink bottle was visually examined and digitally photographed. Most of the drink appeared to be still inside the bottle; however, the plastic cap seal was not intact. A set of sterile swabs was used to collect possible DNA from the outside ridged portion of the bottle mouth opening and the inside of the bottle cap.”

After testing the items, DOJ Criminalist Rebecca Gaxiola submitted reports indicating that DOJ had recovered three DNA samples from the crime scene items collected. The DNA profiles for the juice bottle and the black shirt matched, and the DNA from the recovered socks was a separate profile.  Janitor Lee Sickendick, who apparently was initially considered a suspect, was expressly excluded as a DNA contributor.  The DNA profiles were entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), but there was no match to any previously entered profiles. Criminalist Gaxiola advised that the two DNA profiles were confirmed to have both come from males. She also later confirmed that neither Scott Bailey nor David Johnson had been previously entered into the CODIS database.

5 – Investigation

The Sheriff’s Department began receiving phone calls and messages from literally hundreds of people purporting to have information about the identity of the perpetrators, but who did not want to have their own identities disclosed.  These people are commonly referred to in law enforcement circles as Confidential Informants (CIs).  Not surprisingly, the frequency of these communications ramped up significantly after November 28, 2012, when the county announced an increase to $50,000.00 the amount of the reward for providing information.  Some of the information received from CIs turned out to be useful, but most of it was bogus, sometimes even funny.  For example, on March 7, 2013, the Siskiyou County Sheriff received a hand-written letter, which I will quote, leaving out names and identifying information:

Chief of detectives.

I contacted you about a year ago about the gold nugget theft.  I was wondering if the lead I gave you about Mr. ____ turned out.
I’m aware of his current location but I would need the reward brought to me here in the Butte County jail, in a cashiers check made out to the county with my name and booking number placed in the memo line.
(Name of sender)     #____________
I believe my information to be correct insomuch as he’s living very well and doing nothing.  Once again, he was a shooter while a Navy SEAL, and in his location you will not have the advantage.
                            (Name of sender)
                           @ Butte County Jail”

Not all the information provided by CIs was flaky, however, and some of it led the authorities to focus their attention on David Dean Johnson and Scott Wayne Bailey.  On December 4, 2012, and again on December 6, 2012, Siskiyou County Sheriff Deputy Ed Pecis had useful conversations with a CI.  The CI told Deputy Pecis that he had been told by a friend of Travis English, who lived in Redding, that David Johnson was involved in the burglary, and that, after the theft David Johnson had driven to Redding with another unknown person.  He was told that Johnson and the other person met with Travis English and gave him some gold nuggets to sell for them.  The CI said that David Johnson was in Yreka “for court or something” and went to Redding the day after the burglary.  The CI further stated that Travis English was a long-time friend of David Johnson.

Deputy Pecis checked the Siskiyou County court records and discovered that a speeding citation had been issued to David Dean Johnson, DOB 12-11-63, on January 31, 2012, at 8:08 PM northbound on Interstate 5, south of Weed.  Weed is a town approximately 25 miles south of Yreka.  The officer that issued the citation had noted that Johnson had a white male adult passenger. This was the evening of the burglary.  It would seem they were in a hurry to begin their little adventure.

Pecis checked DMV records and determined that Johnson had a home address in El Sobrante, CA, with a secondary address in El Cerrito, CA.

Poor Mr. Johnson must have been a little preoccupied, because he got another ticket for a moving violation in Redding the morning after the burglary at 10:19 AM.  Redding is about 100 miles south of Yreka.  The Redding citing officer also noted that Johnson had a white male adult passenger.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Detective Yves Pike communicated with a different CI on December 6, 2012, who told him that David Johnson of El Cerrito and Scott Wayne Bailey, of El Sobrante, were responsible for the courthouse burglary.

The investigating officers obtained pawn shop records from various locations.  When they buy items, pawn shops are required by law to keep certain records of the transaction, including a thumb print, a signature, a copy of the seller’s driver’s license, and a description of the item purchased.  Based on information obtained from pawn shop operators and other witnesses, the officers were able to document a series of events that included the following:

Martin Milligan sold “a chunk of melted gold” at the Market Street Gold Exchange in Redding for $440.00 on February 1, 2012.

Pamela Paulette Pink sold gold nuggets at two pawn stores on February 2, 2012.  Pink pawned six gold nuggets for $1700.00, at a pawn store located in El Sobrante. She then drove to Richmond and pawned gold nuggets for $1220.00, at a pawn store there.  Pamela Pink was the girlfriend of Scott Wayne Bailey.

Martin Milligan sold “one melted glob of gold” at the Market Street Gold Exchange in Redding for $550.00 on February 7, 2012.

DMV paperwork showed that on February 7, 2012, Scott Wayne Bailey purchased a 2006 BMW automobile, California license plate #5TND964. Records filed with the DMV inconsistently showed he paid $2500.00 and $5000.00 for the vehicle. An ownership certificate was issued to Bailey on March 3, 2012, with no lien holder listed. A CI later told Detective Pike that Bailey had paid $11,000.00 cash for the vehicle.

Travis English sold “three chunks of melted gold” at the Market Street Gold Exchange in Redding for $1,350.00 on February 8, 2012.  The Market Street Gold Exchange employee recalled that the gold appeared to be “placer” gold, which was partially melted down, and said this was unusual and therefore suspicious. The amount of $1,320.00 paid to English was consistent with the sales price of one ounce of gold at the time.

On February 13, 2012, DMV paperwork showed that Pamela Pink, the girlfriend of Scott Bailey, purchased a 2000 Ford Mustang, California license plate #4KXS235. Records filed with the DMV showed she paid $1000.00 for the vehicle. An ownership certificate was issued to Pink on March 2, 2012, with no lien holder listed. Pink later told Detective Pike that she had purchased the vehicle for $4000.00. Pink told Detective Pike that Bailey had given her $2000.00 cash to help her buy the vehicle.

On April 3, 2012, Scott Wayne Bailey sold an antique gold pocket watch to Lockeford Jewelry and Loan, in Lockeford, California, for $200.00. The business-owner described the watch as a 14k gold Waltham pocket watch, with a hunter’s case and a broken back. The store owner told Detective Pike that although he did not specifically remember the watch, he remembered Bailey coming into the store to sell the watch, because Bailey had told him that he was coming from Germany and needed money to get back. The pawn shop operator checked their system and found that to be the only transaction they had with Bailey.  It is interesting to contrast the $200.00 paid by the pawn shop, with the $2,500.00 value assigned to the watch by PGL, the appraiser.

Detective Pike learned that the serial number for the watch sold by Bailey was consistent with Waltham watches manufactured in 1888, under the American Waltham Watch Company name. Although the County of Siskiyou had not recorded the make or serial number of the watch stolen from the courthouse, the photos of the watch in the display case showed that the stolen watch had been an American Waltham Watch Company pocket watch manufactured in that timeframe. The stolen watch was a wedding gift given in 1898.  Unfortunately, the watch was never recovered.  The pawn shop had already sold it to a third person for an unknown amount.  The laws that regulate pawn shops do not require them to document sales, only purchases.

On December 4, 2012, Detective Pike was contacted by another confidential informant, who told him that Bailey and David Johnson had committed the courthouse burglary.  During this conversation, as well as during another interview on December 19, 2012, the CI told Detective Pike that the CI had known Bailey and Johnson for several decades and knew their body types and movements. The CI had watched the public-release video of the courthouse burglary and was certain that the burglar in the short-sleeved shirt was Bailey and the individual in the long-sleeved shirt was Johnson.  The CI provided information about Bailey’s and Johnson’s personal life that a casual observer could not have known, including previous criminal activity, details about where they lived and who they lived with, and their spending habits, including gambling and the purchase of vehicles, and how they were paid for. This CI told Detective Pike that Scott Bailey had a girlfriend named “Pam,” who drove a blue Ford Mustang. Detective Pike and Agent Pecis later confirmed that this was Pamela Pink.

The CI also told Detective Pike that Scott Bailey had told the CI that he had come into a lot of money.  The CI told Detective Pike that Scott Bailey had no legitimate source of income, and told Detective Pike that the CI knew about the $50,000.00 reward which was offered by the County of Siskiyou, and said that was the CI’s motivation for coming forward with information.

Based upon these investigations, Detective Pike prepared an affidavit and obtained warrants from the Siskiyou County Superior Court for the search of four residences.  On January 15, 2013, agents and officers from Siskiyou County, Shasta County, and El Cerrito conducted simultaneous searches of the residences of Travis English, in Redding, Martin Milligan, in Shasta Lake City, Scott Wayne Bailey, in El Sobrante, and David Dean Johnson, in El Cerrito. The intent was to serve the search warrant at all four locations at approximately the same time to ensure the suspects were not communicating and the evidence was available.

In connection with serving the warrants, Agent Pecis and Detective Pike talked to Martin Milligan and Pamela Pink.  

Agent Pecis interviewed Martin Milligan, who told him that he knew David Johnson, Scott Bailey and Pamela Pink. When Agent Pecis told Milligan that he was investigating the theft of gold from the Siskiyou County Courthouse, Milligan replied, “l didn’t f-ing do the heist.” He then said, “Those guys used me.”

Detective Pike interviewed Pamela Pink, who initially denied ever having any gold in her possession. She then said that Scott Bailey may have given her some gold dust in a vial once, but that she had never possessed any gold flakes or nuggets and Bailey never had either.

When Detective Pike presented the pawn receipts to Pink, which showed she had pawned gold nuggets in El Sobrante and Richmond, Pink told Detective Pike that Bailey had said he did not have any identification and had given her the nuggets to sell. Pink said that Bailey accompanied her when she sold the gold, and only gave her $40.00, keeping the rest of the money for himself. Pink told Detective Pike that Bailey had her sell gold nuggets on a few other occasions, as well, but she could not remember where or when, or how much money she sold the gold for.  Pink said that Bailey had told her he had collected the gold over several years of gold panning, and she denied any personal knowledge that Bailey and Johnson committed the burglary. Pink did, however, tell Detective Pike that Bailey would disappear for days or weeks at a time, and that she never asked him what he was doing.

DNA samples were taken from Milligan, English, Bailey, and Johnson. Johnson was not present when his residence was searched.  He later turned himself in, and his DNA samples were taken the following day.  The officers obtained samples from inside the upper and lower cheeks of the suspects with sterile swabs. The swabs were transported to the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Forensic Services in Redding, California for further analysis and comparisons. The resulting report indicated that Travis English and Martin Milligan were both excluded as sources of the male DNA profiles recovered from the clothing and the Vita Water bottle.

On the other hand, positive DNA matches were established for David Dean Johnson and Scott Wayne Bailey.  Lest anyone might be concerned of a false or incorrect match, the following verbatim language from the report relating to David Dean Johnson should lay that concern to rest:

“The male DNA profile recovered from the swabs from the mouth area and cap of the plastic bottle is the same as the DNA profile for David JOHNSON and is estimated to occur, at random among unelated individuals, in approximately 1 in 5.0 sextillion African Americans, 1 in 1.2 quintillion Caucasians, and 1 in 500 quadrillion Hispanics. This provides strong evidence that David JOHNSON is the source of the DNA recovered from this sample.”

The report relating to Scott Wayne Bailey was identical, except that, in Bailey’s case, the DNA came from the socks.  There are at least 18 zeros in 1.2 quintillion.  I’m not a mathematician, but I’m reasonably sure that combining together the results of Johnson and Bailey would add more zeros.  A lot more zeros than there are people on the planet.

6 – Punishments

On August 15, 2013, Scott Wayne Bailey, waiving his right to a jury trial, pled guilty to a violation of California Penal Code Section 459, Second Degree Burglary, a felony.  He also admitted as true a Penal Code section 12022.6(a)(2) allegation that the loss exceeded $200,000.00.  This conviction exposed him to a five-year prison term in the county jail.  He was sentenced on September 12, 2013.  The sentencing judge had the option of committing him to the full 5-years of imprisonment, or in the alternative, ordering that he be released after the first 3 years, to serve the remainder of the sentence on Mandatory Probation under the supervision of the Probation Department.  The judge elected to commit him for the full 5 years.  A five-year term means that, in the absence of bad behavior while incarcerated, he would serve one-half of that.  In Bailey’s case, he also received a 2 ½ month early release due to jail overcrowding.  He actually served 802 days in custody.

David Dean Johnson’s case progressed a little differently.  He was initially charged with the same crimes as was Bailey, Penal Code section 459, Second Degree Burglary, and Penal Code section 12022.6(a)(2) that the loss exceeded $200,000.00.  These charges carried with them an exposure of 5 years of prison time in the Siskiyou County jail.  Had he pled guilty to this, he likely would have served a similar term in the county jail as did Bailey, 2 ½ years with an early release.  But Johnson chose to exercise his right to a jury trial and pled not guilty.  The jury trial commenced June 11, 2014.  After an extensive jury selection process, the actual trial began on June 19, 2014. 

On June 25, 2014, after several days of trial, Johnson’s attorney announced that his client wanted to enter a plea, and that the District Attorney was in agreement.  Pursuant to a negotiated disposition, Johnson pled guilty to one count of Penal Code section 459, a felony, Second Degree Burglary, one count of Penal Code section 182(a)(1), a felony, Conspiracy, and one count of Penal Code section 594(b)(1), Felony Vandalism.  As to the felonies, he admitted a Penal Code section 12022.6(a)(2) allegation that the loss exceeded $200,000.00.  He also pled guilty to some misdemeanors that were insignificant in the sentencing process.  On August 1, 2014, Johnson was sentenced to a term to be served in the Siskiyou County Jail.

On January 27, 2015, the court was advised that Johnson, through his counsel, and the District Attorney had agreed to a modification of Johnson’s judgment and sentence.  It turned out that Johnson wished to serve the balance of his time in state prison, rather than the county jail, and the DA was happy to oblige.  The reasons for this don’t appear on the court record, but it is easy to speculate that Johnson, who had a prior criminal record, might have thought in state prison he could connect with some old friends who could help him sell his gold.  It is also easy to speculate that the notion that Siskiyou County was essentially paying for Johnson’s room and board at the jail didn’t set well with the DA.

A court appearance was scheduled for Johnson to enter a plea a plea of guilty to another crime, Embezzlement of Public Funds, in violation of Penal Code sections 508 and 514, a felony.  This was a bit of a stretch, because technically embezzlement defines a crime committed by an employee against an employer, but the plea accomplished its intended purpose because, under AB 109, the “2011 Public Safety Realignment Initiative,” the crimes Johnson had previously pled to were not prison crimes, but embezzlement of public funds did call for state prison.  AB 109 is described in more detail below.  Johnson’s plea was entered “nunc pro tunc,” a Latin term meaning “now for then.”  The purpose of “nunc pro tunc” is to retroactively correct an earlier ruling.  This was also a stretch, but got the job done, and the time for appeal has passed.   

The calculation of the exact sentence Johnson received is complicated, but it is sufficient to say that Johnson actually served a total of 943 days, 487 days in the county jail, and the balance in state prison after he was sentenced the second time.

It is this author’s view that the punishments received by Johnson and Bailey were inadequate, given the seriousness of the crimes they committed and the harm inflicted upon the people of Siskiyou County.  This is not a criticism of the law enforcement people who investigated the crime, or of the lawyers in the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office who prosecuted the defendants, or of the Superior Court judges who sentenced them.  The unfortunate outcome, especially as to Bailey, was the result of a perfect storm of government craziness beyond the control of our local officials.

On May 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Brown v. Plata (563 U.S. 493).  The Supreme Court determined that the California state prison system violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  The Court described a litany of horrible conditions, foremost of which was that the prisons were operating near 200% of design capacity.  The court affirmed a three-judge federal Ninth Circuit order requiring that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) reduce the state prison population to 137.5% of the designed prison capacity within two years.  This required CDCR to release 40,000 inmates from its prison population of 150,000.

The California State Legislature and Governor Jerry Brown “solved” the overcrowding problem by passing the “2011 Public Safety Realignment Initiative” (AB 109).  AB 109 made significant changes to the sentencing and supervision of persons convicted of felony offenses.  It changed the place where persons convicted of certain crimes were to serve their terms from the state prison system to the local county jails.  The legislation shifted hundreds of crimes, mostly low-level felony offences committed by felons without prior convictions for serious, violent, or sex offenses, from state prison commitments to county jail sentences.  State prisons and prisoners are an expense to the state.  But the county jails, and the prisoners housed therein, for the most part are paid for by the counties, not the state.  This effectively meant that Siskiyou County was required to bear the expense and to house Bailey and Johnson, who had stolen $1.257,500.00 from it.

To make matters worse, the Siskiyou County Jail is more than 30 years old, past its prime, and inadequate.  For years Sheriff Jon Lopey has been exploring avenues to fund construction of a much-needed new jail.  Before the then “new” jail opened for business in 1988, radio station KSYC and the Sheriff’s Department sponsored an open house for the public.  I attended that and still have a coffee mug given out at as a souvenir.  It says:

Clamor in the Slammer 
First ‘invited guest’ 
New Siskiyou Co. Jail 
June 18, 1988.”

Those old enough to remember may probably see the fingerprints of former KSYC-owner Gary Hawke on the “Clamor in the Slammer” bit.

 It is arguable that the “new” jail didn’t have enough beds even back in 1988, and it certainly doesn’t now.  Accordingly, most convicted inmates get significant early releases, and most misdemeanants don’t get any jail time at all.

7 – Recovery of the loss

The good news about this whole affair, or at least the best news I can think of, is that the contents of the gold display were reasonably adequately insured. 

The Lexington Insurance Company paid $1,201,406.02 to the county, itemized as follows:

$ 1,167,391.00     Negotiated agreed value
$ 829.65      Diebold alarm
$ 1,785.71     Display case repair
$ 41,393.66     Pacific Gemology Lab
-$ 10,000.00     Deductible
$ 1,201,406.02    Total claim

It could be argued that the county received a “windfall” on its insurance recovery, based on the fluctuating price of gold.  The appraisal and the insurance settlement were based on the value of gold at the time of the burglary, which was $1,740 per ounce, historically high.  The current price of gold is around $1,508 per ounce.  Personally, I would take the gold over the insurance proceeds.

When they were sentenced Johnson and Bailey were each ordered to pay restitution to the county in amounts exceeding $1.35 million.  The likelihood of ever collecting restitution from either of them is problematic, although a blue 2006 Chevrolet Silverado pickup registered to Johnson and his wife Gina Marie Johnson, was forfeited.  This was the same pickup that Johnson was seen with in the courthouse videotape the morning of the burglary, and the same pickup he had been driving when cited in Weed the evening before the burglary and again in Redding the morning after.  It was agreed that the proceeds from the sale of the pickup would be paid one-half to the county and one-half to Gina Marie Johnson.

What happened to the insurance money?  Initially, at the time the insurance proceeds were received, the county directed that the funds become an endowment with the earned interest to support the library and museum, a worthy outcome.  But at the beginning of 2018, the county diverted the principal to establish a trust to help fund its unfunded liabilities for employee pensions and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits – i.e. retiree insurance and benefits).

8 – Unanswered Questions

When I first began researching this piece, I focused on two questions that I thought needed to be answered.  The first was: why didn’t the silent alarm activate?  The second: where is the gold?  Unfortunately, I have been able to answer neither.

The question about the silent alarm is perplexing.  Why didn’t Diebold’s silent alarm activate when the two buffoons, David Dean Johnson and Scott Wayne Bailey, were wandering around the first floor of the courthouse, utilizing anything they could find to bash a hole in the display case glass?  One of the first responders to the scene after the break-in was Siskiyou County Sheriff Detective Sergeant Mark Hilsenberg, who reported as follows, “While at the scene I spoke with Wayne Hammer (sic) who is the treasurer-tax collector for Siskiyou County,  Hemmer (sic) told me he wasn’t sure why the alarm didn’t activate as far as he knew it should have detected the break in.  This matter was going to be researched by Hammer (sic) and he was going to be in touch with the alarm company.”

A story in the Siskiyou Daily News written February 6, 2012 and updated July 1, 2012, reported a meeting of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, attended by several county officials, as follows: 

“Supervisor Ed Valenzuela asked, ‘Why did the alarm fail?’
Siskiyou County Counsel Tom Guarino responded that that the county could not reveal that information, though he said that in time, the county would disclose the answer to that question.
Siskiyou County Treasurer Wayne Hammar stated that the alarm company, Diebold, has prepared a report on the alarm failure.  However, due to the pending insurance claim, ‘We have been advised to not release the report at this point.’”

Treasurer-Tax Collector Wayne Hammar told me in an email June 17, 2019, that he had not seen a report from Diebold, nor did he know if there was ever one disclosed to anyone in the County.

From the surveillance videotapes, it appears that the thieves attempted to disable the alarm, but it is unlikely they were able to do so, because, remarkably, the alarm did deploy the afternoon after the burglary, when officials opened the case to find out what happened and to inventory what was remaining. 

More specifically, at 2:45 PM that afternoon Mr. Hammar and other county officials, accompanied by armed guards from both the Sheriff’s Department and the Yreka Police Department, prepared to open the glass.  Before doing so, Auditor-Controller Jennie Ebejer photographed the alarm sensor in the upper right-hand corner of the display.  The sensor was visible through the glass.  At that time, the sensor was still indicating that the system was armed.  Once they slid open the glass, the alarm tripped and functioned in its intended manner, transmitting the signal to the various agencies connected to it.

Mr. Hammar explained to the Siskiyou Daily News that the policy had always been to perform a physical test of the alarm on an annual basis.  The reason, Mr. Hammar said, was that “We have to shut down the whole front end of the courthouse and have to call in a large number of security personnel so we can open the case and physically test the alarm.”  The last physical test, prior to the burglary, had been in August of 2011.  In addition to the annual physical test, the alarm panel was checked daily, and Mr. Hammar personally looked through the glass on a bi-weekly basis to make sure it was still armed.  There is no indication that the policies weren’t diligently followed.

Whether the once-a-year policy of physically testing the alarm was adequate is subject to speculation.  Shortly after the courthouse burglary, at least one security alarm company, a competitor of Diebold, ran an advertising campaign using our courthouse burglary as an example, claiming their system to be better, because it incorporated much more frequent testing.  But that is just advertising, not evidence.

Diebold apparently was expected to submit a report analyzing the reason the alarm failed.  No one that I have talked to within the county government has seen such a report or knows if one was ever disclosed to county officials.  I considered contacting Diebold and asking them, but decided it would be futile.

I have formed what I consider to be a plausible theory about the lack of information.  My theory, more of a wild-assed guess and based on no direct evidence, goes like this:  The Lexington Insurance Company paid a substantial sum of money ($1,201,406.02) to the County to cover the loss.  When an insurance company pays a claim, it reserves a subrogation right.  This means that it reserves the right to sue any one that its insured (in this case the county) could have sued for causing or contributing to the loss.  The insurance company, then, could have sued Diebold if it believed the failure of the alarm was a cause of the loss.  If it did so, then Diebold could have cross-complained against parties who it believed had contributed in the loss.  The result would be an expensive legal fiasco, embarrassing to everyone involved, especially Diebold.   Rather than litigate, the insurance company and Diebold could have settled the matter quietly, perhaps with a non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement.  A non-disclosure agreement would explain why no report as to why the alarm failed has come to light.  As I said, I have found no evidence of such a non-disclosure agreement, but, as in theoretical physics, it can be useful to construct a theory to explain the occurrence of certain phenomena.  Notwithstanding the theory, it would still be nice to know exactly why the silent alarm didn’t deploy.

The other unanswered question is, where is the gold?  That question may never be answered. 

None of it was found during the simultaneous searches of the residences of the four alleged conspirators on January 15, 2013.  We do know that some of it ended up as “melted chunks of gold” at various pawn shops in northern California.

The sentencing judge for David Dean Johnson was Siskiyou County Superior Court Judge William Davis. As I described previously, California law regarding criminal sentencing is complicated.  For most felonies, the law prescribes a range of sentences, giving the judge discretion to sentence a defendant to a prescribed low-term, mid-term, or high-term within that range.  In exercising that discretion, the judge must follow guidelines described in the California Rules of Court.  The Rules set forth specific “factors in aggravation” and “factors in mitigation” to be considered and weighed by the judge when sentencing. 

During Johnson’s sentencing, his attorney argued the mitigating factor of “early admission of wrongdoing” in seeking the low term for his client, a bit disingenuous since Johnson didn’t admit wrongdoing until more than two years after the crime.  Judge Davis rejected the “early admission of wrongdoing” argument, but indicated he would consider it a mitigating circumstance if the defendant disclosed the location of the remainder of the gold.  Before his attorney had a chance to respond Johnson jumped in with “No way” or something to that effect.  It appears that Johnson, who had a prior felony record, considered 943 days of incarceration to be a reasonable investment toward his gold portfolio.

If anyone reading this has answers to these unanswered questions, please let me know at septuagenarianspeaks@gmail.com.

9 – Concluding Thoughts

I have spent hours researching this piece, collecting information from court files, newspaper accounts, police reports, and conversations with people with first-hand knowledge.  I am especially indebted to District Attorney Kirk Andrus, Assistant District Attorney Martha Aker, Sheriff Jon Lopey, Sheriff’s Captain Jeff Huston, and Superior Court Judge William Davis for their valuable contributions.

There is nothing about this case that isn’t sad.  Heist movies have been a staple of main-stream cinema for decades, since Rififi in 1955.  Some of the more well-known include The Italian Job, A Fish Called Wanda, Dog Day Afternoon, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs, The Sting, and Ocean’s 11. These films have different outcomes.  Sometimes the thieves get away with it.  Sometimes they don’t.  But the one thing they all have in common is that the audiences always take the side of, and root for, the thieves.

There is nothing to root for about David Dean Johnson and Scott Wayne Bailey.  These guys are bumbling, inept petty criminals, who through nothing more than dumb luck, managed to rip away 150 years of a community’s culture.  What will they get out of it?  In their eyes, probably quite a lot.  But they will never be able to reap the true value of what they stole.

There is a tremendous loss to the community of a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, “The Shoe” nugget, and this was just a fraction of the total loss.  Does anyone want to venture a guess as to what it looks like now?  The odds are that it is a “melted chunk of gold.”  This masterpiece was created by nature itself, not by man.  Compare it to, say, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  Suppose someone managed to break into the Louvre Museum and irreparably vandalize Mona Lisa.  It would be an immeasurable loss to Western Civilization.  That is pretty much what happened with “The Shoe” nugget.  Sure, you can laugh at the comparison, but it illustrates my point. Maybe not a loss to Western Civilization, but certainly a loss to all of Northern California, and it was accomplished by a couple of bumbling petty criminals who got lucky.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s