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Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette
Jack Hammer was reunited with his Taylor acoustic guitar recently after it was stolen from the trunk of his car.

Hammer of justice for guitar thief

Jack Hammer has played in bands since he was 13, has been a radio personality for 20 years, and last year he became executive director of the Three Rivers Festival.

Now he can add private detective to his résumé. He has also learned a lesson: Always empty your car when you get home from vacation.

Hammer, whose real name is Tom Jaxtheimer, took a short trip not long ago, and when he got home he made the mistake of leaving his Taylor acoustic guitar, a rare and pricey instrument, in the trunk.

The next day, his wife opened the trunk to remove the guitar – and it wasn’t there.

Hammer and his wife had no idea where the instrument might have gone. They didn’t know where the guitar might have been stolen, or how. Did someone get into the car and pop the trunk? Did the trunk somehow pop open by itself, exposing the guitar to an opportunistic thief?

Hammer reported the theft to an area police department, and police reviewed security camera footage from a site at which Hammer suspected the theft could have taken place, but they saw nothing.

It was written up as a case of stolen property with no leads.

So Hammer went to work for himself. He reported the theft to the guitar maker. He called all the pawnshops and gave them a description of the guitar and its serial number, and then called every guitar shop in town and asked them to keep an eye out. Most know Hammer, and they promised to help if they could. Meanwhile, the shops were told to call the police if someone showed up with the guitar, but to go ahead and buy it, making sure to get the seller’s identification.

Before long, Hammer got a bite. Someone called a local shop to ask whether it would be interested in buying a Taylor guitar. Sure, the shop said, bring it in. But the thief didn’t show, and didn’t show, and didn’t show. Police could do nothing.

So Hammer dug a little deeper. He got the name and phone number of the person who called from the store’s caller ID. Then, he went online and found an address for the person and discovered he had criminal convictions, had spent time in jail and was on probation. He even knew the address the person had given police – the address of a local university.

So Hammer called the person. He said he wasn’t sure whether it was because he was scared or in a rage, but his knees were shaking. Someone answered, and Hammer started talking, explaining who he was and why he was calling.

I know your name, he said, and your phone number. I know where you’ve gone to school, and that you have criminal convictions and have spent time in jail. I know you’re on probation – and I know you have my guitar.

I want it back, Hammer told him. Meet me somewhere, a downtown intersection perhaps, and give it back to me.

The man with the guitar was nervous. This could be a setup, he said.

Hammer repeated, give me my guitar back and I’ll forget the whole thing. Don’t give it back, and I’ll bring all hell down on you and you’ll go back to jail.

Going to jail over a guitar wasn’t worth it, the man said. The man told Hammer he’d call him back in an hour.

As agreed, the man called Hammer back a short time later. He had a message. The guitar, he said, was in Hammer’s driveway leaning against a car.

Indeed, there the guitar was, just as described.

The police might not be happy with the result. A thief had gotten away, but Hammer got what he wanted – his guitar.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him at twitter.com (@FrankGrayJG).

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