Monday, March 14, 2016

Recovery of a Gun from the Land of the Rising Sun

In the late summer of 1978 I had returned with my family from our Honeywell sister facility in Ballard, Washington (Seattle area) after having worked that summer on one of several “black” programs we were engaged in during that time frame. One morning received a call from a neighbor that our home had been burglarized, and the local police were at the premises investigating. We lived in a quiet middle-class area, but certainly nothing of a pretentious upscale character that would be a magnet for crime. The current mayor, a former mayor, and the Superintendent of the Public School District, also lived in the immediate area. That, and the fact that the area was in close proximity to a major north-south street, as well as freeway rams to California Interstate 10 (quick on-off access for burglars), had probably prompted the burglary, and also triggered a reasonably fast police response.

Among the stolen items was a small collection of hand guns. It was before I had the resources to have both a safe and a remotely monitored alarm system, although a small local alarm system was in operation, and we had a Wire-haired Fox Terrier (hearing impaired). The burglars, believed to have been two young men and a young woman, were not on the premises for more than 10 minutes maximum, so only a safe would have been effective.

Suffices a detailed police report and insurance claim were submitted, including the serial numbers of all the hand guns which had been stolen.  At that point I recorded those numbers on a small card, which I carry to this day in my wallet, along with my current Arizona State Concealed Weapons Permit. Try getting one of those even then, let alone today, in California.

Japanese paratroops employing the Nambu Type 14 pistol
during the Battle of Palembang, Dutch East Indies 1942

A particularly bitter loss was a Japanese 8mm Nambu Type 14 (1925) semi-automatic pistol, complete with original leather holster and all major accessories. The year group was 4.2 (1929), manufactured at the Tokyo Arsenal, “Kokura” logo, with all matching serial numbers, including the nickel-plated magazine. Nambu collectors will obviously appreciate that fact. It had been a WWII bring-back, complete with the U.S. Army war trophy registration/authorization paper (provenance), and was a gift from my father-in-law.

A few months passed and one Saturday I was attending the Orange County Gun Show, at the Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California. One of the stolen guns I was trying to replace (to the extent I could) was the Nambu pistol. I certainly was not a professionally trained criminal investigator, but am reasonably observant. Subsequently commanded a Naval Reserve Intelligence Unit in direct support of the San Diego Regional Office of the U.S. Naval Investigative Service, forerunner to NCIS of current television fame.

As I passed rows of tables I noticed a Type 14 Nambu displayed for sale with a large group of other hand guns. An immediate sense of recognition occurred. Obviously trying to keep both my voice and hand from any discernable shaking I asked if I might look at the weapon. Carefully turning the gun over I observed all the markings matching my stolen weapon! As slowly as possible I replaced the weapon on the table, thanked the “gentleman”, and immediately started looking for the nearest uniformed Orange County Deputy Sheriff. At that time I was still carrying a copy of the stolen property report that had been filed with the Ontario Police Department. I showed the deputy the report specifically pointing out the entry on the Nambu pistol and its serial number.

With this information now in the hands of the deputy, we returned to the table confronting the seller, and verified the details of the pistol. Unfortunately, in an attempt to obfuscate the original gun some one had swapped out the barrel assembly, consequently a different serial number (821) on that piece, versus the receiver (587). Although now mismatched (significantly decreasing the value of the gun), all the other serial numbers still matched the receiver. (Editorial Note: If by any extremely remote possibility anyone who might be reading this article, and has a Nambu with the same numbers on opposite parts, you could by making the swap, significantly increase the value of both pistols!). 

Obtaining and recording the “gentlemen’s” driver’s license data, the deputy advised him that he was under suspicion of being in receipt of stolen property, and attempting to sell same, but surprisingly did not confiscate the gun, nor place him under arrest. Needless to say this fact “annoyed me quite a bit” (gross understatement). As I can best recall there was a requirement in California law that confirmation of stolen property had to be obtained from the agency holding the original burglary report, by the recovering law enforcement agency.

Fortunately everything turned out alright. I received a phone call the very next week from a Detective of the Ontario Police Department, saying that he had travelled to the “gentlemen’s” residence somewhere in Orange County, and physically taken possession of the pistol. He asked if I would be at home for the next hour, in order that he could personally return the Nambu. Perhaps living virtually next door to the city’s mayor may have helped, as even then gun control laws had begun to complicate lawful ownership/possession in the State of California. Try to get a response like that today, particularly in the State of California. In any event it suffices to say that I consider myself to be an extremely fortunate individual, with a rather unique tale to tell.

The detective advised that from the original theft at our home, the gun had passed through at least two other parties, one of whom was a particularly crass and obnoxious individual who I had already met at that same gun show during the course of the initial investigation. Apparently the initial "fence" had been a photographer in the North Hollywood area. I never found out as to the final results of the total investigation.

One of the most incredulous elements of the story, claimed by the seller at the gun show, was that the gun was an entirely different weapon just happening to have the same serial number. This apparently in the face of the fact that as Nambu collectors know, the "4.2" establishes both the year and month of original manufacture, and the "Kokura" marking, the place of manufacture. Two guns, same place of manufacture, same year and month, same serial number?! According to best established records there were only 535 Nambu Type 14 pistols manufactured at the Kokura Arsenal in February of 1929.

Subsequently, as you can see from the photographs, the accessories were replaced including; an original early Type II leather clamshell holster, w/shoulder strap, original spare nickel magazine, original early type nickel takedown tool, 3 original rounds of ammunition, 2 original spare firing pins and a museum quality repro lanyard. These items were already becoming difficult to find, and becoming expensive. Even then an original lanyard was going for over $150.00 USD.

For anyone who either may also have an 8mm Nambu Type 14 semi-automatic pistol and/or would like to acquire further information, the following website is an excellent source;  Nambu World: Teri's WWII Japanese Hangun Website. Of particular coincidence is that the website contains a detailed illustrated discussion of a Nambu Type 14 from the identical arsenal/year/month of manufacture. For direct comparison here are two photographs of that weapon, with both acknowledgement and gratitude to Teri's Nambu Website.

In addition the following is a short film on the operation of the weapon;

For those fortunate enough to own an 8mm Nambu Type 14, or just may be interested, the following video contains detailed instructions on the field stripping of the weapon;