Stolen violin found after eight years, but still out of reach


Waldo Alexander playing the violin that was stolen from him.

It’s been eight years since a rate, 18th-century violin was stolen from a Johannesburg Family.

Now it has been tracked down in the United States and police are ready to ask Interpol to help bring it home.

Waldo Alexander, who plays in the Sontonga Quartet and has toured the world with acclaimed artist William Kentridge, inherited the instrument when he was just 11.

But tragedy struck on July 29, 1997 when the precious 1786 Carl Friedrich Lippold violin was stolen from a friend’s house while he was at varsity.

While Alexander, now 29, pursued his music career with a modern violin, his mother never gave up hope of retrieving the family’s treasure – even when the police case was closed in late 1997.

After years of silence, the violin – believed to be hone of Lippold’s earliest works – suddenly popped up on an Internet site, where it was spotted by Waldo in February.

The following month Waldo’s mother, Marita, hired private detective Christian Botha to track down the 220 year old violin.

After a month, it was traced to a person in New York, who reportedly paid R15,000 for it.

But for the Alexander Family, the violin is priceless. Although it is not in the same league as the legendary Stradivari (which make the owners millionaires), it had been in the family for a “very long time” and had passed down the generations.

Also stolen was a unique case, two pricey bows, strings and a collection of sheet music. “Waldo had a specific bond with that violin. It just sang, and had a beautiful tone,” Marita said yesterday. “It will never mean the same to anyone else.”

She remembered how her devastated son, who began playing at the age of 8, phoned her and uttered four words: “My violin has gone.”

It would seem it was first sold for a mere R1,200 by a Pretoria-based auction house to a Waterkloof resident who, in turn, offered it to a Durban-based violin dealer.

The instrument went on sale online for R22,000, where it was described as a “fascinating violin, full of individualism and character … an attractive instrument in exceptionally good – almost mint – condition”.

But the violin was never sold. By the time the family approached the dealer, the Waterkloof owner had taken it back and engaged a Bulgarian musician (with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra) to sell the instrument.

He sold it to a New Yorker.

Marita chose to negotiate with the Bulgarian to retrieve the violin and, although not compelled to by law, offered to pay for it. All negotiations, including a meeting last week, reached a stalemate.

Waldo, who leaves for San Francisco on Thursday, said: “That kind of instrument becomes a part of you. Losing it is like losing a limb.”

Police spokesperson Inspector Lucas Sithole confirmed the investigating officer was considering involving Interpol in its recovery.


Posted in Theft.