TAMPA — For years, a man pawned a carved metallic object at Capital Pawn Gold & Jewelry Buyers, each time describing it only as an artifact.
“He pawned it 15 times,” said Capital Pawn owner Joe Cacciatore. “He always came back for it, until he didn’t.”
Cacciatore figured it was a dull knife or letter opener with a handle depicting a person from an ancient culture. But then he showed it to an archaeologist.
“‘That’s not a knife. It’s a key,’ he told me,’” Cacciatore claims. “I asked to what. ‘Pandora’s box,’ he said. ‘It’s alien.’”
Cacciatore made national headlines in 2009 when a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player pawned his Super Bowl ring at Capital Pawn. At the time, Cacciatore told the media that he sold it for a “suitcase full of money.” Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, he said, demanded to know the player’s identity even though Florida law states that a pawn shop can only share that information with law enforcement. He again made headlines in 2015 for auctioning a Fidel Castro autographed baseball.
After more than 30 years in the pawn shop business, Cacciatore is retiring. Most of his remaining inventory — a mix of sports and music memorabilia, jewelry, guns and historic items — will be sold at a Nov. 4 auction. More than 1,000 items will be available and many, Cacciatore said, have a story.
Whether those tales are true depends upon what someone is willing to believe.
“That’s always what I loved about this business and will miss,” Cacciatore said, “the mysteries.”
A black leather jacket emblazoned with The Ramones’ signature eagle holding a baseball bat is signed by drummer Marky Ramone, but allegedly has a deeper connection to the iconic punk rock band than an autograph. As the story goes, the jacket belonged to bassist Dee Dee Ramone. Marky Ramone acquired, signed and then gifted the jacket to a girlfriend, who later sold it to Capital Pawn.
Cacciatore has photos of Marky Ramone and the girlfriend wearing what appears to be that jacket and the signature has been certified by a third-party authenticator. But Cacciatore does not have copies of the angry emails that he claims the drummer later sent.
“He was not happy when he learned that she sold it,” he said with a laugh. “He called her some names.”
Cacciatore spent 25 years turning down fake Babe Ruth autographs before a customer brought him one that could be authenticated.
The tale of the autograph as told to Cacciatore goes like this:
In 1948, the Great Bambino was taking in a spring training game at Tampa’s Plant Field. At some point, from a wheelchair, Ruth asked a police officer to make sure that he was left alone for the remainder of the game. But the officer made one exception — passing the legend a ball to be signed for a friend’s grandson, who later pawned it to Cacciatore.
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News archives place Ruth in Tampa at a Reds and Cardinals game in March 1948 and reported that he struggled to walk to home plate for a pregame reception, but there is no mention of a wheelchair. The article also stated that he signed dozens of balls for children.
“It’s supposed to be the last ball he ever signed, I was told,” Cacciatore said of his ball up for auction.
Perhaps the last ball signed in Tampa, but not nationwide. Stories around the country up until Ruth’s death the following August report of him signing autographs.
It is unclear what artist should be credited with the painting of the man walking past a bridge, but Cacciatore said he is certain to whom it is signed. “Santo Trafficante and Lucky Luciano.”
It appears to say something resembling Trafficante, who was allegedly head of a Tampa crime family, but the second name is difficult to make out.
Cacciatore believes the painting is linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. On the back of the frame, someone created a collage of news clippings referencing the event.
And Cacciatore thinks that the bridge looks like the one near a Dallas curb hit by a stray bullet fired at the president. A piece of the curb infamously splintered and hit a man, James Tague, in the face.
Cacciatore said that the person who pawned the painting told him that it once hung in Trafficante’s home. “This was sent from New York. They cut out those clippings to say, ‘Ha. You got away with it.’”
Trafficante’s attorney Frank Rogano wrote in his book “Mob Lawyer” that the Tampa don, on his death bed on March 13, 1987, confessed that he arranged for the assassination. But others have said that Trafficante was in South Florida on March 13. Trafficante died in Texas four days later.
Gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano died in Italy in January 1962 and Kennedy was killed in November 1963.
That doesn’t mean Luciano was not in on the plan prior to dying, Cacciatore said. “The government has come three times to take this painting away from me. They wanted to do forensics on the back of this. They said there’s clues.”
Cacciatore alleges that he would not let them take it.
Cacciatore initially gave $500 to the owner of the alleged artifact each time it was pawned, but then doubled it upon learning that the item had personal value.
“He told me that his great-great-grandfather was like an Indiana Jones type of guy … and he would go to these tombs and … get these artifacts,” Cacciatore said.
The alleged artifact was then supposedly passed on with a rule.
“Never sell it,” Cacciatore said.
He guesses the man meant to buy it back with 25% interest before the 60-day holding period was up, as he always did, but died before he could do so one final time. Cacciatore locked it in a vault and shows the alleged artifact to anyone who might help identify the item.
One archaeologist noted it has hieroglyphics, Cacciatore said. The being on the handle only has four fingers and the space between the being’s legs has been “rubbed away,” like that area is used as a key.
“He told me it is not of this Earth,” Cacciatore said. “I said, ‘Come on, man. I don’t believe in this stuff.’”
Still, that item will not be up for auction.
“I’m keeping it,” Cacciatore said. “You never know.”
If you go
The Capital Pawn Auction will be held at 10 a.m. on Nov. 4 at 2525 E. Busch Blvd. in Tampa. For a preview, visit harrisauctionsllc.com.