Canonsburg store owner 'confused' by charges of Civil War memorabilia theft
A second-hand store owner accused of pillaging $1 million in Civil War artifacts said Wednesday he believes he will be exonerated.
“I want to talk, trust me,” John Irwin Moeller, 46, of North Strabane said Wednesday, when his preliminary hearing continued until Feb. 26. “It all has me a bit confused myself.”
A yearlong investigation culminated Feb. 1 when Peters and state police arrested Moeller, the owner of John's Trading Post in Canonsburg, and charged him with multiple counts of illegally possessing firearms, burglary and theft.
Investigators said Moeller participated in the theft of historical memorabilia from a private Peters museum that focuses on Pennsylvania life from the French and Indian War to World War I, court documents state.
Neither Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone nor investigators with Peters or state police could be reached for comment.
Peters police started an investigation in January 2012 when Gregory Connell of Peters reported a number of artifacts missing from the collection that his father, Robert, amassed over 40 years and kept at his Locust Drive home in Peters. The collection and the log building that housed it were valued at $4 million to $6 million, according to court documents.
The Connells could not be reached for comment.
Gregory Connell — who lived in the log structure with his wife, Kimberly Connell — told police the theft happened before June 2011. According to court documents, the list of missing items filled 28 pages.
According to court documents:
Investigators discovered that two people in Pittsburgh paid $600,000 for Civil War artifacts from the Connell collection through a Lycoming County auction in November. Through photographs, Robert Connell identified the items as being part of his collection.
Megan Ann Kress, who is Kimberly Connell's daughter and Gregory Connell's stepdaughter, told investigators Moeller had prepared a document, which she signed, swearing that Robert Connell had died and she was the executor of his estate.
Kress and Kimberly Connell told investigators they sold items to Moeller on about 30 occasions from 2009 through August 2012, including two guns, muskets, a sword, hats, uniforms and a pair of boots.
Peters police discovered Moeller selling items on Craigslist, including a Civil War officer's cap and belt buckle. In September, state police seized 22 items from his business, including firearms, said to be from the Connell collection.
State police also confiscated percussion pistols and rifles, gun cases, scopes and a box containing 62 brass knuckles and switchblades, court records state. State Trooper Timothy Motte said in an affidavit that Moeller was prohibited from possessing firearms because of pleading guilty to corruption of minors and statutory sexual assault in 2003. Moeller received three years' probation, court records state.
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.