"Returning the Thunder"
The Shooting Wire
Monday, August 6th, 2007
On February 11, 2004, SIGARMS officials were aghast to discover that somewhere between the Safari Club International show in Nevada and the opening of the SHOT Show in Las Vegas three weeks later, one of their rifles and a matching knife had been stolen.
These weren’t just any knife and rifle, they were a custom Blaser R93 rifle and matching Damascus steel knife. Nicknamed Okavango Thunder and Okavango Lightning, respectively, these unique weapons were a custom designed pair of one-of-a-kind pieces, each more art than weapon.
Immediately upon discovering the pieces gone, SIGARMS notified the SHOT security, Las Vegas Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They also announced a $20,000 reward for the return of the pieces in undamaged condition.
The silence was resounding. And for more than three years, there were no leads, tips or information to lead SIGARMS officials to believe either piece would ever be recovered. Finally, convinced the unique pieces were lost, the company and its insurers settled. It seemed, after all, that these unique pieces may either have been ditched by thieves, or stolen for a collector. With art thefts, that is frequently the case.
“Someone knew exactly what they were looking for,” said Mark Kresser, then the Vice President of Commercial Sales for SIGARMS, “they took exactly one case – but it was one of our crown jewels. That is why we are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the individuals responsible for the theft and the ultimate return of “Okavango Thunder and Lightning” in their original condition.”
“This rifle, the ‘Okavango Thunder,’ is a one-of-a kind and features Bulino on steel engraving, ivory and scrimshaw detail work and other features – including an ivory bolt knob and intricate detail work. The accompanying ‘Okavango Lightning’ was an equally ornate Damascus steel knife in the same motif – right down to its ivory handle.”
The rifle represented the latest work of master engraver and artist Richard “Ritchie” Maier. Famed for his wild motifs, Maier had outdone himself on the “Thunder”-it was not only a dangerous game rifle, it was a work of art with detailed Bulino engraving that made the animals look almost real, and ivory bolt knob and grip caps. His collaborative partner, Egon Trompeter had also worked to make the accompanying “Lightning” hunting knife equally stunning.
Okavango Lightning –still missing, presumed lost.
Then, in May of this year, a call from a Las Vegas Private Investigator to Las Vegas Police officials. Apparently, the PI represented a woman in Las Vegas whose former husband had worked at the Las Vegas Convention Center. He had told his wife he had “traded” for the rifle. With their marriage breaking up and the husband in jail on other charges, the woman was suspect as to the origin of the rifle. Ultimately, she decided it was not something she wanted in her possession.
Consequently, she had engaged the private investigator to notify LVPD officials his client “might know something” about the whereabouts of a “fancy elephant gun” stolen a couple of years before. LVPD notified SIGARMS officials who were, indeed, interested.
Further negotiations resulted in the recovery of the Okavango Thunder rifle, still in its original custom case, although somewhat worse for wear. The knife, however, remains lost.
Okavango Thunder and its case – recovered, but somewhat worse for wear.
Recovering a piece of art isn’t exactly an uncomplicated process, especially if there’s already been an insurance settlement.
SIGARMS officials contacted their insurers, letting them know that a part of their 2004 claim had been recovered. After all, at that point, the rifle belonged to the insurers, not SIGARMS.
After that, experts examined the rifle. Those examinations determined that it was still a beautiful and unique work of art, but no longer worth the pristine valuation of the time of its theft.
Consequently, settlement price was reached (SIGARMS officials will only say it was “somewhere in the 50-60 percent of pristine range”) and the rifle was purchased from the insurance officials by SIGARMS on behalf of a private collector.
Today, a master gunsmith with extensive experience at restoring one-of-a-kind firearms is restoring the Okavango Thunder as closely as possible to its original condition.
The companion Okavango Lightning, however, remains lost – and no one involved seems to hold much hope for its return. After all, a knife – especially one so obviously unique – is far easier to sell – or “lose” rather than risk being caught with it in your possession.
With the rifle recovered, however, at least the larger part of the mystery has been solved.
Reprinted with the author’s permission. For more information about Jim Shepard and "The Shooting Wire", go to