They Were Selling Stolen Tubas for Scrap Metal, Until the Community Said No Way

It was an odd string of thefts that rattled an entire community in 2011: More than 20 tubas disappeared from Los Angeles-area high schools over the course of two years. The instruments, which can weigh up to 50 pounds and sell for hundreds of dollars, were stolen by thieves looking to make a quick buck, police and school officials said at the time.

But the bizarre tale unfolded in even stranger fashion when the recipient of at least some of those stolen tubas was revealed to be a man named Omar Daniel. Mr. Daniel, a warehouse worker who volunteered with a local youth jazz band, was caught trying to sell a tuba on Craigslist for $350, according to The New York Times. He was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property, and the schools tightened security measures in response. But in a twist, Mr. Daniel claimed that he, too, was a victim, and that the tubas he was trying to sell were given to him by an acquaintance who had gone missing. He was never convicted, and the cases against him were dropped.

The mysterious story became emblematic of a larger issue confronting Los Angeles at the time: According to local news reports, the city's Performing Arts and Music Center had lost $13,000 in instruments over the previous five years, including violins, guitars, and saxophones. A local orchestra director pleaded with musicians to stop leaving their instruments in their cars, pleading, "Please, make sure you take your instrument with you whenever you leave your car."

But despite increased caution, the tubas kept disappearing. They were disappearing across the area at various schools, and sometimes from private homes. In total, 22 tubas were stolen, all of them Shires brand, which retail for around $4,000. An officer with the Los Angeles School District's police department told the Times that the thefts were likely committed by someone with knowledge of music departments and instruments, who targeted the tubas specifically for their value.

At the time, Detective Robert Perry of the Los Angeles School District Police Department told the Times that Mr. Daniel was not believed to be the only recipient of the stolen tubas, but "just the first to be caught."

"I think he was a victim, too," Detective Perry said. "He was just trying to make a few bucks, and somebody took advantage of him."

But the peculiar tale took an even more bizarre turn four years later, when the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office announced that all charges against Mr. Daniel had been dropped. The office appeared to confirm Mr. Daniel's story, that he had been given the tubas by an acquaintance who had claimed to have bought them legitimately. After Mr. Daniel was arrested, that acquaintance disappeared, leaving Mr. Daniel holding the bag — or rather, several tubas.

While the incident ended with no definitive resolution, the story of the tuba thieves remains a frustrating and bizarre tale for the schools, musicians, and communities who were affected by — and who continue to wonder about — the person or people behind the disappearances.

Read more