The Great Banjo Caper

Rod Searcey

Jim Pollock's beloved banjo already had a storied history. The Portola Valley developer, who perfected his strumming by playing for his Sigma Chi fraternity brothers, bought the rare 1931 Vega Vox III 30 years ago. Since then he has played it for a half-dozen U.S. presidents at such locales as the power gatherings at Marin County's Bohemian Grove. One of his favorite memories is of playing at the Supreme Court for a group that included Sandra Day O'Connor, '50, LLB '52, and the late William Rehnquist, '48, MA '48.

But on a trip to Sacramento for a family vacation this summer, Pollock,'58, uncharacteristically left it unattended in his GMC Denali. The SUV was stolen. The car was recovered unharmed–but its precious cargo was gone.

On August 6, a man and a woman tried to pawn the banjo in a Folsom, Calif., shop. When a surveillance-camera video was released to the media by the shop owner, the pair apparently gave up on their plan to pawn it. But the banjo then somehow made its way into the hands of Robert Dick, a bail bondsman who stars in the National Geographic Channel reality show Bounty Hunters. Dick contacted an attorney who arranged to hand over the instrument—for the posted reward of $10,000.

“I find the whole thing pretty distasteful,” Bill Windle, a private investigator Pollock hired, told the Sacramento Bee after the banjo was recovered. “I feel that people should get a reward for returning found property, but in this case the property was known to be stolen.” But for his part, Pollock is just happy to have his instrument, with its characteristic mellow tone, back again. “I would probably pay $100,000,” he says.