The case of the missing Hickman church bell has come to a ringing conclusion. It was found in Indiana after being purchased on eBay.
Several area residents called the church after a story on the theft appeared in The Bee on Sept. 17. Those calls led to a thrift store, then to the eBay auction. In the end, it appeared someone with ties to the church took the heavy bell, which measures about 3 feet by 3 feet, saying he thought it was abandoned junk.
The historic bell from Hickman Community Church was cast in France and traveled by ship around Cape Horn to San Francisco, where a 12-mule wagon took it to the church in 1891.
But the years hadn't been kind to the bell, which endured the collapse of two bell towers and a decade of sitting on the ground near the church building.
Church officials originally thought the bell, which in recent years was out of sight behind a mobile unit used as a community food bank, had been stolen sometime in August or early September. In fact, officials discovered, the bell was taken in early May.
In a news release, the church said the bell "was stolen and taken to a scrap metal company in the area," then sold to a thrift store. But deputy Andrew Winter, public information officer for the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, said Modesto resident Dana Conklin, 52, took the bell directly to Thrift Emporium in downtown Modesto, where he sold it for $180. Winter added that Conklin has attended the Hickman church and told investigators he took the bell "because he thought it was garbage."
After the bell sat unsold for several weeks, Thrift Emporium owner Shawn Klemm said Tuesday, a customer offered to put it on eBay. It was sold for more than $2,000 to David Pederson of Cedar Lake, Ind. Pederson told Stanislaus County sheriff's Detective John Heilman that he planned to put the bell in his church.
Attempts to reach Pederson by phone and e-mail elicited no response. "He's sort of upset because he's out more than $2,000," Heilman said. "The gentleman is holding the bell for the church, to make sure it doesn't get lost again."
The church reached an agreement with Pederson to return the bell to Hickman, "its rightful home, as soon as possible," according to the news release.
The Rev. Andrew Woodfield said a church member with a truck had offered to pick it up in Indiana, but details are being worked out.
When it is returned, Woodfield said, the bell "will go into storage. Hopefully in the future, it will be used as part of a historic presentation."
Hickman Community Church officials don't want to press charges, but said they are "truly grateful for having found the bell's location," according to the news release.
Meanwhile, Pederson is out the money he paid, Winter said.
"You don't know that," Klemm retorted. But when asked whether he intends to return the money paid through the eBay purchase, he refused to answer, suggesting that perhaps the Hickman church would pay.
Not true, church officials said.
"We feel bad because we're taking the bell. But we're just recovering our stolen property," said Sandy Sanders, secretary for the church. "I wish someone would donate a bell to them. That would be an awesome thing."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.