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Guilty Plea in Hall of Fame Theft

May 17, 1999

BOSTON (AP) _ A former probation officer at the Suffolk County Courthouse pleaded guilty Monday to stealing two wills signed by baseball Hall of Famers and selling them for more than $15,000.

Joseph Schnabel, 56, of Pembroke, Mass., pleaded guilty to two counts of larceny over $250. Boston Municipal Court Judge Sally Kelly sentenced him to a year of probation and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine.

Schnabel, who resigned before he was charged in the case, also must pay restitution to the buyers of the stolen wills and return payments to the purchasers of similar documents he admitted stealing.

Prosecutors said Schnabel, a probation officer for 15 years, stole the two Hall of Famer wills from the courthouse where he worked in the fall of 1996. The documents were kept in the registrar’s office at the building.

One document was signed by George Wright, a player for the Cincinnati Red Stockings in the late 1800s. The other was signed by Thomas Connolly, an umpire in the 1920s. Both men were elected to the Hall of Fame, and both wills have been returned to the courthouse.

``Stolen bases are legal in baseball, but stealing documents from baseball’s greatest stars is a crime,″ said Richard Iannella, Suffolk County’s register of probate.

Several stolen papers, however, are still missing from Suffolk County, including the wills of ballplayers Sam Curran, ``Gentleman George″ Haddock, Jackie Manning, Miah Murray, ``Buck″ O’Brien, Jack Slattery, Tom Smith, Denny Sullivan and Hall of Famer Thomas McCarthy.

The discovery of the missing documents led authorities in other parts of the country to realize they had experienced similar thefts.