How my accordion got stolen and how I got it back in six weeks

2016 has been a very exciting year already. My band Whiskey and Women has already recorded three songs for our next album. I spent January in California, getting to listen to some of my favorite San Francisco bay area bands and getting to spend time with friends and family. I finished moving *almost* all my stuff to Germany, and stashed my remaining treasure in a few safe places. In my rush to empty my storage unit, and to prepare for my full-on transition to living in Hamburg, the unthinkable happened: my new accordion was stolen. It was most likely taken at around 7AM on a Sunday morning (around January 17th 2016). I was loading my belongings into my car to sell them at the Albany flea market, and left the open door of my unit unattended for a minute or two. Presumably the instrument was grabbed from the storage unit while I was loading out my flea-market wares… but I’m not exactly sure because there is no video camera in the hallway of my storage unit. The sad thing is, it’s one of my neighbors at this place who stole my instrument, and this person is still renting there at the Extra Space Storage unit in Jack London Square, Oakland CA. The only way that the theft could go completely undetected by the video equipment in the parking lot is an inside job; somebody else who rented there and had a current entry code.  The manager of the facility was very helpful about getting Extra Space Storage to review video footage of the area during the time when I was there; however, nothing suspicious turned up in the footage.

So, during the last week of my trip to California, my new Rebel accordion was stolen and I had to return home to Germany without it. The next few weeks were very hard, emotionally. It was dark and cold and rainy, and I just ached to play my new accordion, this instrument which I custom-ordered and heavily modified, which plays my unique bass system that no one else uses… the flagship instrument for my new band. Instead I had to put the energy of that sadness towards an accordion-rescue campaign. Here’s what I did to get the accordion back:

  1. I filed a police report while I was still in Oakland. Oakland has an online theft reporting system; I found this out just by calling their police non-emergency number and asking the receptionist how to file a theft report. It’s very helpful to have the instrument’s serial number on hand in case of this unfortunate circumstance when you’re filing a police report for your beloved axe. Luckily, my local accordion shop had the serial number since that’s where I bought it; and I already had some great photos of the instrument and that’s an even bigger help.
  2. I made a plan with Kimric at Smythe’s Accordion Center, asking him to be my contact for the instrument’s return since I had to return to Germany.
  3. I made a poster with my picture on it, holding the accordion, and offering a $200 reward, no questions asked in the neighborhood of my storage unit.
  4. I handed the reward poster out to music instrument dealers at some of my local flea markets.
  5. I posted a .jpg version of this poster on Facebook, and shared the story with my friends, and asked them to please re-post my campaign. People really helped out a lot, I saw at least 400 shares on Facebook, and there was some action on Twitter as well. My poster also got shared on the Facebook page “find my gear California”.
  6. I posted the theft on Stolen911.com which is a stolen-property database coordinated by officer Marc Hinch from Alameda, CA.
  7. I posted the accordion on melodeon.net (a button accordion forum), also on the Reyes music forum (another button accordion forum.)
  8. I lit a candle in the dark and focused on the flame, visualizing the accordion being returned to me safely and sending love vibes out to my missing instrument. Maybe I sound like a hippy now but this ritual made me feel a lot better. It increased my confidence that the accordion would come back safely one day. It allowed me to calm down and be more thoughtful. It allowed me to feel more faith in my friends and family and the good people of the world.
  9. A few weeks later, I wrote a letter, and sent copies of this letter and my reward poster to many pawn shops within the Bay Area and Reno. I kept my Facebook feed updated by posting news about my search as time went by.

I had some reason to believe that the accordion would come back to me: the instrument’s unique custom design, and the fairly high profile of my online search which featured  professional promotional photos of the instrument. My friends in the accordion business helped me to keep an eye out. I knew that inevitably, one day, the accordion would need a repair for some reason and I could get it back from one of the accordion shops, as long as everybody knew about it. I notified all the accordion shops I know of on the west coast that my instrument was stolen. So, in addition to endorsing shopping at your local music store, I’d like to endorse paying for good photography! Promotional photos help artists to get taken seriously and they help document precious things. I think it made a difference to the weight of my story; that I’m a professional musician with good promo photos. I think the nice photo also helped me get the most possible shares on social media.

I thought of all these activities as casting a net, it’s hard for one person to get lost property back; but a community can do it. My online community also gave me emotional support at this time. Maybe it sounds wimpy or soft… but when you’ve worked a year on designs and modifications on an instrument which you could barely afford, which is the founding instrument of your new sound with your new band… it’s gut-wrenching to find it gone. My new band is called the Rebel Lovers. The accordion is decorated with a gold heart and named “Rebel” in honor of the band.

The instrument got returned on February 26th, by a semi-anonymous helper named Evan. He left a note but no last name. note from evan

Evan found my accordion at the Albany flea market and bought it from the vendor for $300. He looked the instrument up online and quickly found my reward poster. (He possibly found it on the Stolen991.com database, which has a system of listing tags which help search engines to find things….or else on Facebook… I would love to find out!).Evan brought the instrument to Smythe’s Accordion Center, and Kimric paid him the $300 to cover the cost. My parents paid Kimric back as a sort of early birthday present… thanks mom and dad! I posted the good news to Facebook the next day. Within an hour, my sister messaged me that she was flying to Copenhagen that day, and she could bring the instrument with her to deliver it in person. She booked a courier to deliver my accordion from the shop to her apartment and kept it by her side all the way to Copenhagen. She posted funny pictures of my accordion riding in first class, my accordion hanging out in the hotel…

I booked a bus trip to go meet her, (it’s a 5 hour drive to Copenhagen from where I live in Hamburg.) I got my Rebel back from my sister on February 29th, six weeks after the theft; three days after it got returned to Smythe’s Accordion Center.

getting rebel back

Here is a picture of me getting my accordion back at the Scandic Hotel in Copenhagen.

I am so grateful to the community who helped me get my Rebel back, to all the friends and family who reached out and offered comfort and help. Thank you so much. It’s hard to believe that my special-fancy-acoustic-electric-accordion came back so quickly! Your help with the social media campaign is the biggest reason that I got the instrument back, (besides Evan himself.) I hope that this story can inform and inspire other musicians who get their shit stolen. There is  hope for you to be reunited with your gear if you’ve got photos, and a will to post the message as far as you can, even though it hurts to be constantly reminded of your lost friend. Yes I will post your lost-instrument campaign to my Facebook wall, no problem! Gotta pay it forward.

If you’re reading this Evan, please send me a message! I would love to send you a thank-you card and some of my recordings.

Your pal in music,

Renee de la Prade

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