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Suspect Arraigned in Will Thefts

February 10, 1999

BOSTON (AP) _ When the wills of deceased Boston-area baseball players were discovered on the sports memorabilia market last year, court officials wondered who was stealing the historical public records.

Authorities now say it was an inside job.

Probation officer Joseph Schnabel was arraigned Tuesday on larceny charges for allegedly swiping the documents from a vault at the Suffolk County Courthouse where he worked.

The case involves the theft of court papers bearing the signatures of some of baseball’s earliest superstars. George Wright, Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy, all Hall of Famers, played for Boston teams in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Also missing were the wills of ballplayers Thomas Connolly and Samuel Wright, George’s brother. Samuel Wright’s will has since been recovered from an Oregon memorabilia dealer, according to Suffolk County Register of Probate Richard Iannella.

But many of the papers remain missing, Iannella said.

``To think that an officer of this court benefited financially and at the same time committed grave robbery is unconscionable,″ Iannella said. ``A part of Boston history and major league baseball history has been stolen and may never be returned home to its proper place.″

In a Boston Municipal Court hearing that lasted about a minute, an innocent plea was entered on behalf of Schnabel, 55, of Pembroke.

Iannella realized the records were missing from a vault at the Suffolk County Courthouse in October when a document signed in 1913 by Wright was listed in the catalog of a New York auction house.

That led to the realization that the will of Wright and his wife were missing, along with the wills of McCarthy and Duffy. In fact, McCarthy’s entire file appeared to have been stolen.

Authorities in other parts of the country then realized their vaults had been hit as well.

Detective Howard Springer of the McLean County, Ill., sheriff’s department said Schnabel is a suspect in the theft of the will of Hall of Famer Charles ``Old Hoss″ Radbourne from a courthouse there, but said a decision has not been made about whether to charge him.

’We’re waiting to see what happens out in the Boston area with the charges,″ Springer said.

The Radbourne will was returned by a New Jersey banker who paid $11,500 for it on the memorabilia market.

Iannella said the will of another Wright brother, Harry Wright, has disappeared from a Philadelphia courthouse.

Boston Police Department spokesman Peter Norton said Schnabel admitted to stealing two documents in Massachusetts and selling them, and to stealing two documents in other states.

The players made names for themselves in the early days of organized baseball, playing with such clubs as the Providence Grays, the Boston Beaneaters and the Boston Red Stockings.

Schnabel has been a probation officer for about 15 years, Iannella said. A probation spokeswoman refused to comment.

Schnabel was released on his own recognizance after arraignment on the larceny charge. Neither he nor his lawyer, James McCusker, would comment on the case as they hustled from the courtroom.

Iannella said he doesn’t know if the wills of other celebrities have also been stolen.

``I suspect there are more,″ he said. ``We have over a million files here and we’re trying to do inventory.″