Courts & Crime

The case of the stolen violas: Well, make that empty cases

Commuting can be such a hassle.

Especially when you're Theodore Kuchar, music director of the Fresno Philharmonic, and have to travel 6,000 miles from your home in Ostrava-Stara Bela, in the Czech Republic, to your Fresno address. Not only is it a long journey, but there are plenty of opportunities for unfortunate things to happen along the way.

Late at night on Dec. 19, Kuchar left his Czech home on a return trip to Fresno. Ahead of him were rides in a taxi, train and three different airplanes. He walked out the door with a big suitcase and two smaller viola cases in either hand.

One viola was old, from 1742. The other was new. Kuchar, whose viola playing is secondary to his conducting career, had it built for him by Jan Bobak, a noted Polish instrument maker.

When he got to Fresno the morning of Dec. 21, he opened the cases. Both violas were gone.

"I remember thinking, 'These things just don't happen to me, they happen to other people,'" says Kuchar, who has replayed the entire trip many times in his mind.

No trace of the violas has been found.

Kuchar bought the 1742 viola at auction for $13,500, he told police. The value of the new viola is $12,000.

His insurance on them was minimal.

"Let's just say the coverage was extremely symbolic, not nearly what they were worth," he says.


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