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From the archives

The great Oscars heist

Just under three weeks before the 72nd Academy Awards in 2000, says Mark Seal in Vanity Fair, the ceremony’s 55 gold-plated Oscar statuettes were stolen from a loading dock in California. They were taken by a forklift operator on the graveyard shift, who would often smuggle boxes of goods to his truck-driver friend Lawrence Ledent. Ledent found his truck loaded with pallets marked “Academy”, reached in and lifted an Oscar from its Styrofoam casing. He vaguely recognised the statuette from television, he later told police, and thought: “I got the Emmys!”

Worried they wouldn’t be able to make a new batch in time, Academy bosses offered a $50,000 reward for the statuettes’ return. Ledent panicked. He sold one for $100 to a “Mexican dude”, who demanded his money back when he “found out it was hot”. Eventually, Ledent ditched the figures in a supermarket dumpster, where they were discovered by junkman Willie Fulgear. The 67-year-old initially thought the “little gold men” were toys. “Brass,” he later recalled, “and I can sell brass by the pound.” It was only when Fulgear showed the haul to his son that he realised his mistake. He called a local TV station and bellowed: “I got the Oscars!” Fulgear was given not only the reward money, but also a ticket to the bash itself, a free tuxedo and a limo to take him there. “Arnold [Schwarzenegger] came up and shook my hand,” he recalls, “and said, ‘Willie, you’re a born star!’”