Sheila Annel got a call Sunday about a break-in at the storage facility where she kept some treasured items. Just one thing was missing from her unit: a 200-pound Empress antique music box.
"It's been in my husband's family since the 1930s," said Annel, 40, of Dunedin.
The music box, built around 1900 or 1910, was a gift from his grandfather to his grandmother, she said.
"If I stood any chance of getting it back, I needed to get busy on it quickly," Annel said.
She did. And with her help authorities say they were able to track down her music box and two men who they think are responsible for 123 storage unit burglaries in North Pinellas County.
Annel started calling antique dealers on Monday. She described the music box and told them it was stolen.
"Knowing it was a fairly unique item, I was hoping I'd beat somebody to the punch," she said.
She's not sure how many calls she made. But by afternoon, she got a call back. A dealer told her that a man tried to sell the music box at his shop.
"I contacted the Sheriff's Office, immediately put them in touch with the person who had called me back and let them do their job," Annel said.
Here's what happened next, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office:
On Tuesday, authorities pulled over Noah Andrew Dutton's vehicle. They found the music box in the back seat, according to reports. He told them he bought it for $500 from a man he met at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.
But detectives say they determined that Dutton, 30, was working with his friend, 28-year-old Carlton Strawderman, to steal items from storage units at Main Street Storage in Dunedin and Tropicana Storage in Clearwater.
They found numerous items they believe are stolen at Strawderman's home, including three handguns, a lot of fishing poles, camping equipment, personal papers, checkbooks, spear-fishing equipment, three flat screen televisions and tools.
Dutton, who is listed as a transient, faces one count of burglary, one count of grand theft and one count of dealing in stolen property.
Strawderman, of Dunedin, faces charges of felon in possession of a firearm, three counts of grand theft motor vehicle and violation of probation for a Virginia carjacking charge.
Two of the vehicles, a motorcycle and a scooter, were stolen from storage units, according to arrest affidavits.
Additional charges are pending for both men, authorities say.
Annel said her family had been keeping the music box at the storage facility temporarily because they were moving items out of the old home of her mother-in-law, who now lives with Annel and her husband.
The music box, which is about four feet high and two or three feet deep, is a bit beaten up.
"We're going to refurbish it and put it in our home," Annel said. "It deserves a place of honor."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.