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Former Harry S. Truman Library and Museum employee reflects on 1978 heist of swords, daggers

truman swords broken display case
Posted at 10:00 AM, Jul 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-05 19:27:37-04

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — The doors of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum are again open to the public after a $29 million renovation, but there are national treasures you won't see at the newly reopened museum.

That's because they were stolen more than 40 years ago.

The I-Team first reported on the mystery of the missing swords and daggers in May.

Carol Burnett, a lifelong Independence resident, saw our 41 Action News investigation.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh! Look, it's on TV,' because nobody remembers anymore," she said.

Carol Burnett and Cat
Carol Burnett worked at the museum in 1978, when the heist occurred.

However, Burnett does remember, because she worked at the museum in 1978.

On March 24, 1978, she showed up to work and found detectives searching for clues amid shards of glass on the floor.

"My favorite objects were gone, and it was sad," Burnett said.

harry truman swords and daggers
The collection of swords and daggers gifted to President Harry S. Truman by leaders of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Her sales desk was just across the room from the swords and daggers, which were gifts to President Truman from foreign heads of state.

"I could see those rubies talking to me all day," Burnett said and laughed.

Until that March day when, in 45 seconds, the thieves smashed the glass by the front door of the library and shattered the display case holding the artifacts.

After hearing an alarm go off, a museum security guard ran down a long corridor from the north to the south side of the library.

When he got to the double doors leading to the exhibit, he heard a chain rattling. The thieves had locked the doors from the other side.

"That gave them a few extra seconds to pilfer things out of the case and then go back out the window," Clay Bauske, the museum's curator, said in an interview in May.

RELATED | Can you find President Harry Truman’s stolen treasures?

Somewhere in storage, Burnett still has some of the pieces of glass found on the floor the day of the heist.

"Just a little souvenir to say, 'Yeah, I was there,'" she said.

In the days following the break-in, the FBI interviewed Burnett. Agents showed her "books" of mugshots to see if any of the faces looked familiar, but Burnett said no one stood out.

"I think they had a couple ideas, but they were just kind of grasping at straws because it was something that happened so randomly, so quickly, no evidence. Where do you go?" she said.

There are some theories about what happened.

For instance, the thieves could have melted down the swords and daggers so they could remove and sell the precious stones.

Or, in an old newspaper clipping, Kansas City Star reporter James Kindall suggested something else.

"Somewhere in the United States or possibly abroad, a collector, clad in a smoking jacket and sipping an expensive liqueur, sits in a vault deep in the bowels of his mansion and smiles. On a wall in front of him is the object of his satisfaction. It is an exclusive array of three swords and two daggers worth nearly $1 million" Kindall wrote.

Courtesy: Kansas City Star

READ | Kindall's full article about the heist

"I would like to think that a collector has them somewhere squirreled away," Burnett said.

If that's the case, she has a message for the person holding on to the treasures.

"Shame on you. Those are ours. They're not yours, and you need to give them back," Burnett said.

If that ever happens, she plans to be the first in line to see the swords and daggers back on display at the museum.

LISTEN | FBI seeks help solving Truman heist cold case