Aron Gratias gets emotional as he discusses the reaction of the hockey world and sports collector community since his vast Wayne Gretzky memorabilia collection was stolen.
In an April 3 social media post, the Emma Lake man, Sask., revealed that autographed jerseys, pictures, pucks and nearly 10,000 hockey cards — including 2,200 by Gretzky, some autographed — were stolen from a locked storage container in a rural yard were near Shellbrook, Sask., where they were temporarily stored.
Gratias had amassed the collection and other hockey collectibles for more than 40 years. He said most of the autographed items were personally signed for him, including autographed photos of Gratias and his family.
None of the stolen items have turned up, but hundreds of people have since reached out to him, he said.
In an interview with CBC News, a visibly moved Gratias said “a number” of major collectors had contacted him and offered to give him some of their own memorabilia.
Collectors offered jerseys signed by Gretzky. One person offered replica Stanley Cup rings from the early 1980’s that were part of their great-grandfather’s collection.
“The support has been incredible,” he said. “Overwhelming.”
Gratias said he could not accept the offers.
“Being a huge hockey collector myself, I know what these collections mean to people,” he said. “And I couldn’t do that to anyone else.”
Gratias said he wasn’t sure if Gretzky himself heard about the theft, but that Gretzky’s brothers contacted him online. Gratias also said that retired NHLer Georges Laraque shared his story on a podcast.
“The hockey world, while it seems very, very big, it’s definitely a pretty small, family-like community,” Gratias said.
Total strangers looking for stolen collection
He estimates that his social media posts have now been shared almost 30,000 times across different platforms internationally.
Gratias said he gets about 60 to 70 texts or direct messages a day from people with possible leads.
He has people watching all the online buy and sell sites. Local pawn shops have also reached out to him, saying they are on the lookout for his stolen items, he said.
Organizers of a major sports card exhibition recently held in Edmonton contacted him and said they posted photos of his stolen items at the entrance so collectors would know what to look out for.
So much attention has been paid to Gratias’ stolen collection, and so many people have tried to help him locate it, that it’s even affecting legitimate sellers of Gretzky memorabilia, he said.
He said someone who posted a Gretzky collection shortly after Gratia’s story was published “received thousands upon thousands of calls and hate mail.”
“It was just so overwhelming that at the end the RCMP had to say to him, ‘You know what? Not a good time to post your stuff,'” Gratias said.
He said RCMP officers from at least four departments have contacted him to say they have received multiple calls and photos of items that may belong to him.
Gratias said RCMP told him they had a few leads – and they’re “picking up a bit of traction”.
RCMP is silent on the status of the investigation
When asked if there were leads or suspects in the case, the Saskatchewan RCMP said in a statement, “The investigation is ongoing and we have no further information to provide at this time.”
The statement also said that investigators are not currently in contact with admins of buy and sell sites — but this may change, “depending on the investigative avenues being explored.”
Gratias said the hockey memorabilia was stored in one of two storage containers and that the other container’s locks were unbroken. He also said other valuable items were left in the same container, such as cordless power tools and other memorabilia.
He said whoever was responsible for this selectively opened boxes and containers, unpacked certain items, and then repacked those items — putting them back in the boxes and containers and almost resealing them.
“It was very strange,” he said. “What makes me believe that, you know … a lot of people tell me, ‘It has to be someone close to you.'”
Gratias said fewer than a dozen people knew of the whereabouts of the collection.
The RCMP said the theft happened sometime between November and March.
In a release earlier this month, the RCMP urged the public to look out for:
- 19 Gretzky jerseys, autographed.
- Large Gretzky pictures and large painting, all signed by hand.
- Signed sticks.
- Signed pucks all in display cases.
- Nearly 10,000 cards including 2,200 by Gretzky, some signed and a framed Gretzky Rookie Card PSA 8.
- 1979 Mattel dolls still in boxes.
- Figures, some autographed.
- Photos signed by Team Canada.
Gratias said whoever has his collection probably doesn’t want to reach him personally, but he urges them to drop it off somewhere and let someone else know — or leave it in a visible place and make it clear it’s to Gratias’ memorabilia is about.
“No questions asked,” he said. “I just want my collection back.”