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Safecracking full of suspense

A safe found in Clearwater's old Capitol Theater was to be opened on live TV. But inside, there was another door _ and more delay.

For the first time in years, a crowd gathered at the old Capitol Theater on Friday to see a production.

The show was center stage, all right. But it was put on by a local television station, not a theater company.

It was the much-touted opening of an old safe discovered by the theater's new owners _ Socrates Charos, his wife, Dru, and Rena Brenner _ shortly after taking over the building last summer.

When it was discovered, the safe was in the back of the theater, locked tight and dusty. By Friday afternoon, it had been cleaned up and moved to a more prominent location _ a spot more accessible to TV cameras.

The safe opening was to be a highlight of WFTS Channel 28's 6 p.m. newscast. At least, that's what the station's promotions said this week.

Beginning at 5 p.m., newsman Peter Bernard served viewers promos of the safe opening "live from the theater in downtown Clearwater."

Spectators, who began arriving about 5 p.m. expecting to find locksmiths tinkering with the combinations, discovered that the outer door had been opened and the inner safe partially opened. They now would wait for the final opening, they learned, until shortly after 6 p.m., when Channel 28's klieg lights would shine on Bernard, the designated safe opener.

While they waited, there were promotions. After the promotions, there were cheers led by Charos, who had agreed earlier in the week to let Channel 28 open the safe on the 6 p.m. newscast.

A WFLA Channel 8 cameraman arrived about 6 p.m. and was surprised to learn the safe would be opened by a competitor. There was a discussion as to whether the Channel 8 employee could even film the opening. As a result, he filmed only the safe and the locksmiths.

At 6:17 p.m., Bernard walked toward the safe and reached to open it.

He found . . . another safe. "It's a safe within a safe within a safe," he said.

Locksmiths Larry Patton and Robert Morris from Wizard Safe and Lock would need at least an hour to break into the newly discovered safe, which had a lock requiring two keys, similar to a bank safety deposit box.

"I feel like Geraldo Rivera," Bernard said, referring to the night in April 1986 when Rivera opened a vault, said to be Al Capone's, on live television, only to find dust and a little bit of embarrassment. To wait and hour would mean the 6 p.m. news would be over.

What to do?

After a discussion with Charos and the folks at the station, it was agreed to have the locksmiths once again prepare the safe so Bernard could merely pull open the door _ on the 11 p.m. news.

Bernard went for pizza.

The Channel 8 cameraman and reporters and photographers from two daily newspapers left to meet deadlines and report other events. And viewers were left to wait and wonder.

_ Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.