By Jeff Lehr
A Joplin woman got her stolen ring back Thursday when a suspected thief literally coughed it up in front of police.
The ring belonging to Rebecca Moore was inside her purse in a vehicle parked at Northpark Mall when someone broke into the vehicle and stole the purse about noon Thursday. Her husband, Tom Moore, said the two-carat diamond ring — worth about $20,000 — was a family heirloom passed down to his wife from her mother.
“It meant the world to her,” he said.
Moore had just picked the ring back up from Comeau Jewelry store, where she’d had some repair work performed. She drove to the mall lot and parked, leaving her purse in the car while she went inside the mall. She discovered the theft when she came back out, and police were notified at 12:34 p.m.
Less than four hours later, a man and a woman walked into Newton’s Jewelry in downtown Joplin with a ring they wished to have appraised.
Store owner L.T. “Bunny” Newton recognized the ring right away from a picture Comeau’s sent to local jewelers in the wake of the theft. Newton said the diamond was distinctively set between two sapphires and was “easy” to spot.
“So we stalled, and kept weighing and measuring it,” he said.
Newton said the young couple represented the ring as having been her grandmother’s. The man told the jeweler they might be interested in selling it.
The business in the meantime had contacted police. Newton said he suggested that the store might need to steam clean the piece to appraise it properly, as a way of further stalling the couple. About 15 minutes had passed since they first came in.
“He got kind of antsy then,” Newton said. “You could tell he suspected something was going on.”
The man decided to take the ring back from the jeweler at that point, and the couple appeared about to leave when police officers walked into the store.
Newton said he never noticed, but the man must have swallowed the ring when he spotted the police. The officers asked the couple about their ring, and the man told them Newton still had it.
“I told him: ‘No, you took it back from me,’” Newton said.
Officers searched the suspect and could not find the ring. But the man began to cough uncontrollably, Newton said.
“And they kept questioning him, and he kept coughing,” he said. “Finally, he coughed it up.”
It was off to jail next for Cleon L. Harris, 23, and Breanna M. Johnston, 19, both of Joplin. They were charged with receiving stolen property. The arrest caused Harris to miss a court date Friday on a prior felony weapon charge, and another warrant was issued on him while he remained in jail.
Tom Moore said his wife wasn’t up to talking about the matter yet on Friday.
“She’s just very grateful that the retailers at both jewelry stores took the extra time and effort to distribute the information and respond to it,” he said.
He said their gratitude extends to the Joplin Police Department as well.
Thursday’s capture of a couple in alleged possession of a stolen ring was not the first time Joplin jeweler L.T. “Bunny” Newton, 87, has had a brush with lawbreakers or thwarted a crime in progress.
The World War II veteran scuffled with three masked men who invaded his family’s home in 1961 and struck him in the head with a gun. The men fled without accomplishing whatever their goal had been. Almost 20 years later, he was abducted at gunpoint outside his store by members of a four-state crime ring, who robbed him of a ring and cash before letting him go on the west side of town after he feigned a heart attack.
By Jeff Lehr
- Joplin Metro
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