For three dozen years, Harold Gray has traveled the world tracking down stolen goods.
But the main objects of his obsession are rare coins stolen in a brazen heist by five hooded men in 1967 from the vault of young millionaire Willis Harrington duPont at his family home in Coconut Grove, Fla.
Two gold coins, bought with money from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation that were lost or stolen from the mail in Colorado in 2003, could be from the rare-coin stock purloined as the family and staff of Mr. duPont were bound with silk ties at the home.
Mr. Gray, a Florida attorney who works for Mr. duPont, said other duPont coins have turned up in the Denver area, raising his suspicion.
"A lot of our coins have been found in that area," he said.
Mr. Gray said the duPont collection had three 1855 $3 gold coins, as well as two 1845 $10 gold coins, that generally match two coins Mike Storeim, the Colorado coin dealer hired by Tom Noe, reported stolen in October, 2003, from a package sent from a California coin-grading firm to his office.
Mr. Storeim has said he purchased the two coins with Ohio money for $250,000.
In an interview with The Blade, Mr. Gray said the coins are some of the rarest known. He would like to know more about the coins, including where they originally were purchased.
He is also interested in two other gold coins that Mr. Storeim purchased with state money at the same time that were not reported stolen, an 1845 $5 gold coin and an 1845 $2 1/2 gold quarter eagle coin. The duPont collection may be missing similar coins, he said.
While doing research on the missing state coins, The Blade found the Boulder, Colo., dealer who sold them to Mr. Storeim. However, he declined to say where he bought the coins.
Since most dealers will talk about the origin of their coins, Mr. Gray is even more curious, he said.
"That's always suspicious," he said during a telephone interview last week.
It's difficult to determine the value of the duPont coins. Because some are so rare, it is easy to identify them as the stolen coins, making it difficult to resell them.
The duPont coins have popped up over the years in foreign countries, at coin-grading firms, and in small and big-time dealer collections. Mr. Gray has searched and searched, and now with the state of Ohio's rare coin scandal, he thinks news of the four coins constitutes another lead.
Mr. Gray has cards describing in exacting detail each missing coin, some of which were bought more than 80 years ago. He said one of the missing coins, which was not circulated, is worth $500,000. Many of the coins that have been confiscated by Mr. Gray over the years have ended up back in the hands of the American Numismatic Association's museum in Colorado. Sometimes, the holders of the coins have been prosecuted, he said.
Robert Hoge, curator of American coins and currency for the research-oriented American Numismatic Society, said he has identified some of the coins over the years. He used to work for the old American Numismatic Association coin-grading service, which predated the private grading services that now dominate the industry.
"There are a lot of strange things that go on. When we were with the ANA, we recovered two coins, an 1866 quarter and an 1866 half-dollar, both stolen from the collection," he said. "A coin dealer found them in California and purchased them for virtually nothing, and [Numismatic Guaranty Corp.] certified them."
He said the grading firm did not report the coins as stolen. But when they were sent to the society for authentication, Mr. Hoge recognized them as stolen coins from the infamous heist.
The two coins were probably worth more than $500,000, he said. They returned the coins to the estate, he said.
Mr. Gray refiled a few of his cards and crossed a few coins off his list.
Contact Mike Wilkinson at: email@example.com or 419-724-6104.