Jim Gordon, who owns a private museum east of Santa Fe, had given up hope of ever again seeing a 1849 .44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver stolen from his collection last year.
And then the man accused of stealing it during a tour of the Glorieta museum appeared on a nationally televised program about antique guns, trying to get the weapon appraised, according to court documents.
That episode of the Discovery Channel’s “American Guns” was seen by Jeff Hengesbaugh, the museum’s curator, who was channel surfing in a Gallup hotel when he came across the show in February.
About one year after the theft and after Hengesbaugh attempted to get the gun returned without calling the police, there was suspect Wylie Gene Newton, 65, on television, talking about the $40,000 antique.
“I don’t think Jeff even owns a television,” Gordon said. “He just happened to turn it on and it happened to be on that station and, within seconds, he saw it. He was just overwhelmed.”
Hengesbaugh – co-founder of Santa Fe’s annual Mountain Man Trade Fair – subsequently talked to law enforcement authorities, including an investigator for the Santa Fe district attorney’s office.
Police detectives in Wheat Ridge, Colo. – where the Discovery Channel show is filmed at the Gunsmoke Guns store – later went undercover and offered to meet with Newton to buy the gun. Newton allegedly bit and was arrested by police on May 10. Newton is identified in Colorado reports as from Erie, Colo., but has an Eldorado address, too, according to New Mexico court documents.
Newton was booked into the Santa Fe County jail on a $40,000 bond Aug. 5. He had his arraignment in state District Court on Friday and will have a bond hearing at 1 p.m. Monday.
He faces a single charge of larceny in excess of $20,000, which is a second-degree felony, according to online court records.
An arrest warrant affidavit, written by Santa Fe district attorney investigator Frank Jacoby, states that on March 6, 2011, Newton and two women took a tour of the Gordon museum, which features Gordon’s collection of vintage firearms and other items.
Gordon asked Friday that the location of his museum, which is not open to the public and is shown only by appointment, not be published in this story, for security reasons.
Hengesbaugh told the investigator that Newton had taken a tour about a month before and, during that tour, he had taken a Dragoon gun out of its case without permission.
At one point on the second tour – led by Hengesbaugh – Newton wandered off on his own to where the gun display cases were located, according to the affidavit. Hengesbaugh heard a loud crack, which he thought sounded like the door to the gun case slamming shut. He wanted to investigate but the two women were asking questions, so he couldn’t break away.
Shortly after that, Hengesbaugh heard a beeping noise from the electronic lock on Newton’s truck. Hengesbaugh didn’t think that anything suspicious had happened, and, once the tour was over, they all went to lunch together.
The following morning, Gordon noticed the Dragoon was missing from its case, along with a powder flask and holster, and Hengesbaugh suspected Newton.
Hengesbaugh called Newton at his Eldorado home the next day and offered him the opportunity to return the gun. Newton said he didn’t have the weapon but he would call Hengesbaugh back later. He called back and asked Hengesbaugh to give him until 8 a.m. the next day and he would “make it right.” But Newton never showed up and Hengesbaugh reported the theft to State Police.
Gordon, in an interview with the Journal on Friday, said State Police subsequently asked Newton if he had the weapon. When Newton said he didn’t, the investigation did not go much further, Gordon said.
Owner ‘wrote off’ gun
Gordon said he thought about hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit, but he didn’t because there would be no guarantee he’d get the gun back and he’d still be stuck with the legal bills. “I wrote it off,” Gordon said.
Hengesbaugh saw the reality television program featuring Newton on Feb. 10, 2012, while he was on a business trip in Gallup, according to the affidavit. Newton appeared with the Dragoon and with a supposed Colt Walker revolver.
Investigator Jacoby subsequently interviewed gun expert Larry Wilson, who said he met Newton during the filming of the “American Gun” episode in November. Wilson told the investigator he saw the serial number on the stolen gun and used that to authenticate the Dragoon. But the Walker, which Newton claimed was worth $700,000, was only a replica, Wilson said. Wilson told the investigator he did not want to break the news to Newton that the Walker was a fake because he was afraid of Newton.
The investigation led to the undercover sting in Colorado. Newton was jailed in the Jefferson County Detention Center there, pending his extradition to New Mexico.
The Dragoon is being held in evidence, Gordon said, and he hopes it will be well cared for until he can get it returned. Gordon still hasn’t seen the TV show that led to his gun being recovered, but he has spoken to Newton recently.
Gordon said Newton called him about a month ago and started talking about the weather. Gordon said he tried to remain patient until Newton got to the point, and Newton eventually said he didn’t steal Gordon’s weapon.
Gordon said Newton asked him if he thought he was stupid enough to appear on national television trying to appraise a stolen firearm.
” ‘I absolutely do,’ ” Gordon said he told Newton in response. ” ‘I think you’re totally, completely that stupid.’ “