After collecting Star Wars memorabilia for the past 37 years, Steve Sansweet, owner of the Rancho Obi-Wan museum, has reported one of the biggest thefts in his time as a collector.
Sansweet posted a blog entry on the front page of Rancho Obi-Wan’s website detailing a disturbing trend that has affected a portion of the Star Wars collecting world. Sansweet wrote that he and his team learned this past February they had been the targets of an ongoing theft that began in late 2015 and carried into 2016. More than 120 pieces were stolen, with a large focus on “vintage U.S. and foreign carded action figures” and other rare items. Based on their numbers, the theft works out to more than $200,000.
“More than 120 items have been stolen so far and seven have been recovered,” Sansweet told Polygon. “The main dealer who alerted us to this thing, Zach Tann, stopped selling some of the items after he figured it out.”
Sansweet said he doesn’t know why the alleged thief, Carl Edward Cunningham, stole from him. Sansweet told Polygon that he had met Cunningham more than 20 years ago at fan events and had considered him a good friend.
“This is a guy that I’ve had in my house, who has slept over, sharing my food and sharing friendship,” Sansweet said. “For him to surreptitiously steal items from this non-profit museum is just mind blowing. It’s gut-wrenching. I can’t figure it out psychologically.
“All I know is that he’s a thief and he’s admitted to being a thief in emails and texts to me.”
It’s in his post that Sansweet alleges Cunningham, who happens to be another collector, may have been responsible for the theft. In March, Cunningham was arrested and charged with grand theft felony by the Sonoma County District Attorney for stealing another collector’s Star Wars memorabilia. He was released on a $25,000 bail and is expected to appear in court later this month.
“I have known Carl for many years, considered him a good and trusted friend, and played host to him at my home numerous times,” Sansweet wrote. “I, and the staff at Rancho Obi-Wan, are devastated that he is the alleged perpetrator of the thefts. Not only have important items been stolen from the collection, but also our time, energy and ability to trust unconditionally have taken a blow.”
The story caught the attention of Peter Mayhew, best known for portraying Chewbacca, and Mark Hamill, best known for playing Luke Skywalker. The two tweeted about the incident, with Hamill suggesting that Sansweet publish a list of stolen items to stop people from buying stolen goods. Sansweet said they are currently working on a list of items for people to keep an eye out for.
“We have been getting tips and a few people have contacted us and said they were purchasers of these items and wanted to make sure we got it back,” Sansweet said. “We’ve heard from people that the person who stole from us also stole from them. We’re putting together all of that information and turn it over to the district attorney.
“The Star Wars collectors community is so tight knit and everyone seems to know each other. They’re all wonderful men and women who go to bat for each other. The fact that this has happened is an anomaly.”
Sansweet set up Rancho Obi-Wan in 1998 after he moved from his home in Los Angeles to Director of Content Management and head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm. The ranch is located in Petaluma, California, a suburb of San Francisco where Lucasfilm is located. The museum is 9,000 square feet. In April 2011, Sansweet left Lucasfilm and focused his attention full time on Rancho Obi-Wan. A few months later, in October, the ranch was recognized as a California nonprofit public benefit corporation and museum.
Those who want to get in touch with Sansweet about the stolen items can do so directly on the Rancho Obi-Wan site.