A world-renowned Scots fiddler is playing sleuth on the mean streets of a US city in a bid to track down his beloved violin that was stolen from a car while on tour.
Alasdair Fraser, 68, and his musical partner, cellist Natalie Haas, were devastated when they returned to their rental vehicle after stopping for breakfast at a restaurant before a concert in Portland, Oregon, last week to find the windows had been smashed and equipment and belongings worth tens of thousands of pounds had been swiped.
Among the items taken were Fraser’s vintage violin and four irreplaceable bows, including one from the 19th Century. Also missing was Haas’ cello, both of their suitcases, expensive microphones and vital handwritten notes of sheet music for their next album.
‘It feels like I’ve lost a limb’
“I have been playing that instrument forever,” Fraser told The Sunday Post. “It feels like I have lost a limb.”
After local police failed to track the culprits, Fraser decided to stay on in the north-west city for a further week and has launched his own investigation.
The fiddler has been questioning potential witnesses and plastering posters around the downtown area of Portland offering a reward. He believes he has identified the apartment building where the prime suspect lives and has a description of the man. He said he’s shared that information with Portland police.
Haas and Fraser, who have been touring and recording together for more than 20 years, also have been buoyed by support from a network of Facebook followers around the world, including people who have volunteered to contact Portland pawn shops and scour online marketplaces such as eBay for the stolen items.
Meanwhile, some locals lent Fraser two violins so that the duo’s show in the city could go on.
“It is the first time I have ever left my instrument in an unattended vehicle but it was in a public car park and we thought it would be safe to quickly nip out to get something to eat,” he explained.
The fiddler’s one-man campaign has been paying off.
He managed to get Haas’s cello back after staging an appeal on local media and a man got in touch to say he had bought it from the alleged thief in the street for just $40.
The Good Samaritan called Haas’ phone number after finding it on a United Airlines baggage tag that was still attached to the cello case.
Fraser said the buyer told him he had a change of heart about keeping the instrument, decided he needed to set a good example for his young son and wanted to return it.
He met the two musicians on a street corner, just one block from where it was stolen. When Fraser offered to pay the man, he said he wouldn’t accept any cash for ultimately doing what was right.
“The cello is worth thousands but it turned out that the thief sold it to the guy in the street for a pittance,” Fraser said. “It was flogged to a passer-by within an hour of the robbery.”
Haas said she was amazed to get the cello returned. “I just couldn’t believe that within this seedy world there are good people still,” she added.
Ex-pat turns detective
Fraser, originally from Clackmannan, moved to Nevada City, in northern California, in the early 1980s. He is the founder of a number of summer music camps in the US and Spain and has been inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. He is returning to Scotland in January to play at the annual Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow.
The ex-pat said he turned amateur detective in Portland after becoming frustrated that police efforts had so far turned up little.
“I mean, how difficult should it be to find someone lugging stolen music equipment including a big cello in a flight case and a violin around the streets,” he said.
The musical duo soon tracked an Apple Airtag in one of their suitcases to a nearby park, where they found Fraser’s suitcase, mostly empty.
“By then it had been ripped open and most of my belongings, including treasured family photographs, were gone,” he said.
While Haas headed to the police station to report the crime, Fraser stayed around and canvassed the area, talking to everyone he saw. Though Haas’ suitcase wasn’t anywhere to be found, Fraser said a man voluntarily handed over a jacket and her medication, which had been packed in her luggage.
Fraser claimed that further approaches to the homeless community in the city’s downtown area revealed the thief’s identity is known to locals – but no one was willing to turn him in.
“People in Portland have been embarrassed by the theft, so much so that even a leader of the homeless community got in touch to apologise for what had happened and said that although this man’s actions were unfortunate, they were ‘not representative of their community in general’, which I thought was bizarre,” he said.
Fraser insisted he would continue with his hunt.
“It is not just the monetary value of what was stolen that is important to me,” he said. “Instruments are like dear friends to musicians and it takes many years to find the one that you love. I just want it back.”
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