Police announced Tuesday the arrest of a 45-year-old man in the theft of a bronze Jackie Robinson statue that later was found dismantled and burned.
Wichita police Lt. Aaron Moses said the man was taken into custody earlier in an unrelated case and charged Monday with multiple counts, including aggravated criminal damage to property. Moses said he was “very confident it was not a race-related crime.” He said the motive appeared to be financial.
Thieves cut the bronze statue from its base last month at a park in Wichita, Kansas. Only the statue’s feet were left at McAdams Park, where about 600 children play in a youth baseball league called League 42, which is named after Robinson’ s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947.
Fire crews found burned remnants of the statue five days later while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles (11.27 kilometers) away. A truck believed to be used in the theft previously was found abandoned, and police said the theft of the statue, which had an estimated value of $75,000, was captured on surveillance video.
Donations poured in, approaching $300,000, said Bob Lutz, executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture.
Lutz has said that some of the extra money raised also could enhance some of its programming and facilities. In April, the group opened the Leslie Rudd Learning Center, which includes an indoor baseball facility and a learning lab.
Lutz, whose friend, the artist John Parsons, made the statue before his death, said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement can be erected within a matter of months.
Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.