Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 14, 2012

Suspect in violin theft returning to face charges

TRAVERSE CITY — Jack Segal's teenage daughter treasures her centuries-old German violin.

The instrument, a richly colored piece made sometime between 1700 and 1720 in Mittenwald, Germany, found its way by the early 20th century to the Netherlands. Segal purchased it there for nearly $15,000 from a violin dealer in 2009. He was told the instrument sustained minor damage during a Nazi bombing in World War II.

A thief broke into Segal's Sixth Street home and stole the instrument March 2. He feared the violin, special for its historical and family significance, was lost forever.

"It would have been replaceable, but it wouldn't be the same story," he said.

But once again, the violin and its history survived.

The violin and other items stolen from Segal's home were recovered after a Traverse City couple acquainted with the alleged thief contacted police March 5. Authorities on Tuesday were bringing Matthew Donald Rouleau, 26, to Traverse City to face a felony charge of second-degree home invasion in connection with the incident.

Rouleau, of Roscommon, spent the night of the theft with the local couple, police said. He allegedly left the violin and other stolen items at the couple's residence and departed. The couple recognized the violin based on a description police gave local media and brought it and other items to the police station.

"It was a very emotional and positive experience ... that was a big thing to recover," Segal said.

Segal lived in the Netherlands as he worked for NATO, and his daughter and her Dutch music teacher picked out the violin.

"The instrument was linked to her teacher, who is since deceased, and you'll never create that link again ... he was a very important person in her youth."

Police arrested Rouleau in Alpena on Tuesday.

The couple who reported the items to police declined a reporter's request for comment. Segal is grateful they did the right thing.

"They deserve a lot of credit," he said. "They didn't have to do that, and no one would probably ever know that they were involved. People with less of a moral background might have tried to sell the stuff, particularly when they knew at that point that there was an expensive violin in their possession."

Rouleau's criminal history includes a 2011 misdemeanor theft conviction in Alpena County and a 2003 attempted second-degree home invasion conviction in Roscommon County.

"There's not a doubt in my mind that he would have committed another crime had he not been brought to justice on the one in the city," said Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner.

The arrest also comforted Segal and his family.

"This guy was still on the loose, and you feel very uneasy about that," Segal said. "The idea that he was in your house for an hour or so is very unsettling."

Rouleau broke in through a back door, police said. Segal has since installed an alarm system and keeps the violin in a safe.

The incident troubled Segal, but he's left with some good feelings, too.

"The people involved — the police, the detectives, and the individual who ended up with the goods — they all really showed their humanity, their honestly and their ability," he said. "It's a good story in that respect, and we ended up getting back something that would have been irreplaceable."

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