KEY WEST — Two thieves entered a museum shortly after closing time and stole a gold bar worth about $550,000 that had been recovered from the shipwreck of a Spanish galleon off the Florida Keys, police said.
Police and the FBI are working to identify the people who took the gold bar Wednesday afternoon from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, where it had been on display for more than 20 years.
The gold bar had been locked in a see-through case that allowed visitors to touch and lift the bar while it was kept secure. Security footage shows the thieves breaking into the case after the museum had closed for the night, police said.
The 74.85-ounce bar was recovered from the Santa Margarita shipwreck in 1980 by the late Key West shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher and his crew while they were searching for the Santa Margarita and Nuestra Senora de Atocha galleons.
The Spanish ships — loaded with gold, silver and jewelry — were two of eight to sink during a 1622 hurricane. According to the museum's website, a fleet of 28 ships had left Havana for Spain, all packed with treasure.
"Everybody who comes to the museum is encouraged to lift the gold bar and to have a firsthand experience with history," said Melissa Kendrick, the museum's executive director.
Kendrick said the museum's insurance company is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the return of the bar.
One thief is described as a white male, about 6 feet tall with dark hair and a medium build, Key West police reported. The second is about 5 feet 6.
"The security systems worked because we knew the bar was stolen within 10 minutes, and we have usable video and photos for law enforcement," Kendrick said. "The museum made a decision to designate this as a handling object, allowing people to touch the artifact, and this was part of the risk involved in granting public access."