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More Theories Than Clues in Mexico Museum Robbery

January 10, 1986 GMT

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The biggest attractions at the National Museum of Anthropology and History these days are not on display: the 173 pre-Columbian artifacts stolen Christmas morning.

Clues remain scarce, but theories accusing everyone from ″a psychotic millionaire cultist″ to the KGB and CIA abound.

The loss has outraged Mexicans and disappointed tourists.

″What a drag,″ sighed visitor Philip Parker of Los Angeles, trying to peer over a six-foot-high barrier of yellow paper stretched over the glass doors of the Maya Room. A guard inside the room scratched a hole in the paper and peered back.

Museum workers are bringing objects out of basement storage to fill the empty cases in the Maya, Oaxaca and Mexica rooms.

Seventy-three of the missing artifacts were golden objects from the Mixtec Indian culture of southern Mexico. Almost all the treasures displayed from the sacred reservoir at the Mayan city of Chichen-Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula were stolen.

Also missing were pieces from the Palenque ruins in southern Mexico dating back to 500 and 800 A.D., including a Zapotec mask of the ″murcielago,″ or bat god, and an Aztec obsidian sculpture representing a monkey that is listed in guidebooks as one of the most valuable pieces.

A locksmith is busy changing the locks on all 12 exhibition rooms that lead onto a central patio. And 21 years after the museum opened, an alarm system is being installed, starting with the three rooms already breached.

″A little late, isn’t it?″ said Parker, 43. ″The guide books say this is the world’s best museum. How could they let this happen?″

That is what Mexicans are demanding to know. The two-story museum is the depository of the national heritage, a mecca for school children of all ages.

But the museum’s security consisted only of unarmed guards - 33 during the day, and eight at night who were supposed to make rounds of the darkened halls every two hours.

Investigators have said the robbery was probably carried out by two or three thieves between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. the morning of Dec. 25. The loss was discovered at 8 a.m. during the guards’ shift change.

The eight guards on duty during the robbery were questioned for five days but cleared of suspicion, investigators said. The eight denied they had been drinking but admitted they slept instead of making rounds that night, and all have been fired.

″But we’re all still suspects, we know that,″ said guard Celestino Pineda Pineda, on duty one recent afternoon in the Aztec hall.

Federal investigators are not forthcoming with their findings. The attorney general’s office said this week it had five useful clues but would not describe them.

About 280 people have called a special hotline in the attorney general’s office, but none provided valuable leads, the government newspaper El Nacional reported Friday.

Every caller, officials said, inquired about a reward worth about $110,000 offered by the Friends of the Museum.

Although official information is absent, theories are plentiful, filling newspaper and magazine columns and taxi drivers’ conversation.

Museum officials worldwide have said the artifacts are too well-known to be sold to another museum or on the open market.

One newspaper speculated ″a psychotic millionaire cultist″ contracted for the theft and will gaze on the booty in solitude.

Other theories propose a burglar alarm manufacturer trying to drum up business; a fired employee; angry Mayans; the central bank looking for gold reserves; and left- or right-wing political dissidents trying to embarrass the government.

But most theories implicate foreigners, ranging from the KGB in a complicated plot to discredit the United States to the CIA in a plot to discredit the Mexican government.

The removal of treasures, especially by U.S. visitors, from Mexican archaeological sites has long been a sore point here. A law banning the sale of pre-Columbian objects for private collections since 1972 has been only mildly soothing.

″It’s no secret to anybody that pre-Hispanic pieces stolen from different zones of our country leave Mexico daily, to be taken principally to the United States, a country which, lacking its own valuable cultural antecedents robs or buys others,‴ wrote columnist Joel Hernandez Santiago in the weekly newspaper Punto.