FAIRBANKS, ALASKA — Charles “Skip” Binkley was able to recognize the eight moose antlers stolen from his home even after they’d been sawed off their skulls, because each antler is unique, like a fingerprint or serial number.
But he might never have recovered them without the power of social media and the intervention of a conscientious antler buyer.
Binkley loves moose hunting, and the moose antlers in his collection date back 20 years and have sentimental value. Looking at them, he can recall where he shot the moose, the day he shot the moose and who was in his hunting party.
The antlers also have monetary value. Artists use antlers as a raw material. They retail for as much as $10 a pound, according to an Alaska State Troopers investigation. A large set of moose antlers can weigh more than 30 pounds.
Binkley, whose family owns the Riverboat Discovery business, kept the antlers outside a shed near his home in the Chena Pump Road area.
On Nov. 30, his daughter Madison Binkley noticed the antlers had been stolen. She called troopers and also posted about the antlers on a Fairbanks Facebook page dedicated to recovering stolen property.
Jessica Sanborn owns antler art business Arctic Antler Works and has a Craigslist post advertising her interest in buying antlers.
She’s protective of her industry’s reputation.
“I buy antlers all the time, and I don’t like the stigma that we buy stolen things,” she said.
“People buy guns (off the internet). That doesn’t make them bad people. I would like to get it out there that just because we buy antlers doesn’t mean they’re stolen.”
On Nov. 28, Joseph E. Erickson contacted her about her ad, and she bought seven pairs of antlers from him at a home in the Airport area.
She had a bad feeling about the antlers because of the lack of hunting equipment in the garage where she met Erickson. There were also several duplicate sets of chainsaws and other tools frequently taken in home burglaries.
“I was thinking, ‘this is not a hunter’s garage,’ ” she said.
The antlers were attached to the skull plates, and Erickson sawed them off while Sanborn was present. To prevent the creation of a market for trophy animals, selling an antler that’s attached to the skull is illegal. This part of the transaction is fairly common with hunters and wasn’t suspicious, Sanborn said.
Sanborn completed the transaction, but her suspicions stayed with her.
She later heard about Binkley’s stolen antlers from her father, who had seen a posting about them. Sanborn was able to get Madison Binkley’s phone number, and the two exchanged photographs of the antlers to verify that Sanborn had bought at least one of the stolen antlers.
Meanwhile, Erickson was contacting Sanborn about selling her more antlers, this time out of an apartment on University Avenue. The two women set up a sting.
Sanborn went to the apartment to buy the remaining antlers at about 4 p.m. Dec. 2.
Meanwhile, Binkley was trying to reach the trooper she’d worked with before. “He called me at 3:57 p.m. I said, ‘go to Sophie Station right now, Jessica’s buying the antlers. It’s not safe, go there.’ ”
The trooper arrived at the apartment parking lot while Sanborn and Erickson were standing outside with the antlers.
There was a tense moment when the trooper arrived and Erickson didn’t immediately show his hands, but he was arrested without anyone getting hurt, Sanborn said.
Erickson was charged with second-degree felony theft and also has a pending misdemeanor assault case from Nov. 22. He’s being held without bail at Fairbanks Correctional Center. He told troopers that he had been selling the antlers on behalf of another man, who lives at the home near the airport where Sanborn went Nov. 30, according to the criminal complaint against him.
According to Binkley, troopers responded to this house and took two people into custody on warrants not related to the antler theft case.
Of the eight moose racks stolen from the Binkleys, seven have been recovered and returned. Erickson also had two racks that did not belong to the Binkleys.
— Reach Sam Friedman, outdoors editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, at 907-459-7545 or email@example.com