SARATOGA, Calif. - Investigators are probing the case of a missing statue that was stolen from a property in Saratoga. The piece is historically significant, and the owner is desperate to get it back.
For decades, the regal lion statue sat on a pedestal until thieves struck, making off with the precious piece.
"This is not a common theft. That's for sure. It's very uncommon," said private investigator and former FBI agent Rick Smith of Cannon Street Inc.
Uncommon because the statue, dating back to the 1920s, belonged to famous portrait artist Josef de Sigall.
The statue was supposedly a tribute to a lion he kept as a pet. The statue adorned his 70-acre estate in Saratoga, known as the Hearst Castle of the North. Although the castle burned in 1935 and the property was subdivided, remnants of the art collection remain.
"There are other statues on the property. This is the most valuable and was the most, the best preserved," said Smith.
The theft occurred in October when the current owner was hospitalized. While the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office investigates, the owner enlisted private investigator Smith's assistance.
"To take it off its pedestal required some expertise and a special tool. So it wasn't, we don't believe it was a prank," said Smith.
He suspects that more than one person was involved, given the lion's two-foot height and stone composition. The exact value is under evaluation with the help of a New York art dealer, but to the owner, it's priceless.
"It's of significant value, particularly to him because it's historic," said Smith.
Luckily, one neighbor did have surveillance cameras and investigators hope the footage will help crack the case.
"Identified some individuals that we're looking at more closely than others. That's all I'll say about that," said Smith.
Devastated by the loss, the property owner is offering a $2,500 reward for the statue's recovery.