Treasure heist

$60,000 in gold stolen from show vendor

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COEUR d'ALENE - A Montana man had an estimated $60,000 worth of gold stolen from his pickup while dining at Elmer's Restaurant Saturday.

The Northwest Gold Prospectors Association is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the gold.

Ralph Smith, of Ronan, Mont., was a vendor at the NGPA's 16th annual Gold and Treasure Show at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on Saturday.

After the show on Saturday, Smith packed his gold, placed it in his truck and left for dinner at Elmer's Restaurant on Appleway.

Around 6:30 p.m., Smith returned to his Dodge pickup and noticed his keys didn't work in the door lock, so he unlocked the vehicle from the passenger side.

That's when Smith noticed the gold was missing.

"There was some bullion and coins in there, but it was mostly placer gold," he said, explaining that placer gold is in its natural form. He also had several pieces of jewelry.

Smith said some of the items have specific markings, but he did not want to give out those details because the case is under active investigation.

According to Smith, the thieves used a slim-jim or other device to unlock the truck, and they only stole the boxes of gold that he had. The handguns he had in the back seat of the truck were left behind.

"Whoever did it, they knew what they were doing," said Bob Lowe, founder of the NGPA. "They had to be watching him."

Lowe said there has never been a heist of this magnitude at his annual show, which is 16 years old this year.

"We have people try to swipe a coin here and there, but nothing like this," he said, adding there was a large heist at a big show in California a couple of years ago where $1 million of gold was stolen.

"This is incredible what was taken," Lowe said, adding everyone felt so bad for Smith. "These vendors are like family. We all go to the same shows all year long, so you get to know these guys pretty well."

Coeur d'Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood said investigators were given the name of a potential suspect, who may have been a vendor at the same event.

"Detectives are tracking down that lead," she said.

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