LOS ANGELES, March 19, 2000 – Memo to this year’s Oscar nominees: If you win, don’t forget to thank Willie Fulgear.
Oscar: Back in custody Fulgear is the 61-year-old man who solved the Oscar crime of the century, finding 52 of 55 purloined Academy Award statuettes around a Dumpster near a Food-4-Less discount grocery store late Sunday in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Los Angeles, about five miles west of Downtown.
Los Angeles police, meanwhile, today announced here at a noon press conference, attended by the recently recovered (and unharmed) awards, that two longtime Roadway Express employees — a truck driver and a loading dock worker — had been arrested in connection with the case.
“The suspects told us they did it for profit, and they thought they would make money,” Los Angeles Police Detective Marc Zavala said.
Roadway Express is the shipping company that handled the transfer of the newly made Oscars from the Chicago foundry where they were made to Los Angeles. The awards were reported missing from a Roadway Express dock in Bell, Calif., on March 10. Coincidentally, Bell is the same city where thousands of Oscar ballots, misplaced by the U.S. Postal Service, were found earlier this month.
The two suspects, who were arrested Saturday afternoon, are being held on $100,000 bail each.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Robert Rehme, also present at the press conference, couldn’t make much sense of the heist. “How are you going to sell an Oscar?” he asked. “It wasn’t too smart. I think it’s just a foolish thing for them to do – a terrible mistake.”
Fulgear’s find was reported at about 9:30 p.m. PST Sunday, police said.
The man told reporters he literally stumbled onto the trophies, kicking one with his foot as he rummaged through boxes.
“It was heavy and I opened it up … Everybody knows who Oscar is,” Fulgear told the Associated Press.
Apparently figuring finders-keepers, Fulgear packed ’em into his car. He called his son asking why a bunch of Oscars would be in the trash; the son called police.
For what it’s worth, Fulgear was not at today’s media to-do. Police are being cagey about his status. They don’t say he’s a suspect, but they won’t say he’s not a suspect, either. Neither are they ruling out the possibility of more arrests.
The Academy also is playing it close to the vest when it comes to its apparent benefactor. When asked if Fulgear’s deed would win him a ticket to Sunday’s ceremony, a cryptic Rehme said: “We certainly thank Mr. Fulgear, but we’ll have to wait until this [investigation] is totally resolved.”
On Friday, Roadway Express put up a $50,000 reward for the lost statues. Today, Roadway Express was non-committal about whether it’d be cutting Fulgear the check. “This is still an open investigation,” a spokesman said.