A local business owner confessed to stealing a rare mandolin appraised at more than $200,000 from an elderly woman while working inside her La Crosse house, according to police reports.
Wisconsin Bat Specialists Inc. owner Michael Bakke, 62, took the instrument in early June while searching the 87-year-old blind woman’s 13th Street house for bats.
He contacted Heritage Auctions in Texas to list the item he hoped would fetch $5,000. A 2009 appraisal valued the mandolin built in 1923 by Lloyd Loar, the head engineer of Gibson, at $225,000.
“That’s what makes it so valuable,” said Isaiah Evans, director of vintage guitars and musical instruments at Heritage Auctions.
Evans estimates there are only 250 nationwide, though he believes they are worth about $150,000 in the current market.
Police began investigating the theft Sunday when the woman discovered the instrument missing from an upstairs bedroom closet.
She had no suspects other than Bakke, who turned himself in to police the next day.
Bakke told investigators he met with the victim in June to catch a bat living in her house and said he “felt sorry” for her when he learned she was legally blind and living alone in a dwelling in need of repair, reports stated.
The woman asked him to help locate the mandolin in the closet, and Bakke claimed he couldn’t. Instead, he set it next to a window that he unlocked, propped a ladder outside and took it, according to reports.
Bakke told investigators he planned to sell the instrument as a “surprise” to help improve the woman’s living conditions, reports stated.
He realized he made a “huge mistake” when Heritage Auctions offered him a $43,000 down payment. Bakke denied coming forward to police because the woman reported the instrument stolen.
Police and Heritage Auctions are working to return the mandolin.
Police arrested Bakke, of Sparta, on Wednesday for felony theft and released him on a signature bond. He will appear Sept. 2 in La Crosse County Circuit Court.
“Michael was extremely cooperative during this incident and apologized several times for his mistakes,” investigators noted. “Michael stated he accepts responsibly for his actions.”