ABC 7 documentary strings together 'classic whodunit' on stolen violin

Paul Becker (Photo: ABC 7 Chicago)

From his workshop in northwest suburban Prairie Grove fifth-generation master violin maker Paul Becker transforms wood, strings and glue into prized instruments that sell for $36,000.

The family business traces its origins to Becker’s great great grandfather, Herman Macklett, who started making violins in the mid-1800s in Chicago. Today Carl Becker & Son produces handmade violins, violas and cellos cherished by musicians around the world.

Erica Morini

But none is ever likely to match the value of the $3 million Davidoff Stradivarius, regarded by experts as “the world’s greatest violin,” that was stolen from the New York apartment of famed violinist Erica Morini days before she died in 1995.

Despite enough suspicious characters to fill a mystery writer's drawing room, the heist still leads the FBI's list of the top 10 unsolved art crimes.

This weekend Becker is featured in a true-crime documentary produced by ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7. "Stolen: The Unsolved Theft Of A $3,000,000 Violin" premieres at 11 p.m. Sunday on ABC 7. It's also available on the station's website, 24/7 streaming channel and on Roku, Fire, Apple and Android TV. (Here is the link.)

Becker offers insight into what makes a great violin and why he believes Morini's Stradivarius must still be out there somewhere.

"What makes something valuable is being consistent, being artful, being able to promote yourself and making the numbers," Becker said. "Our family has made a total of 800 instruments altogether — my grandfather, my father, myself and my sister included. Strad [Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari] made over 1,200. Not all Strads sound great. That's not the reason that they're valuable. The reason they're valuable is they're made by Strad."

Stolen: The Unsolved Theft Of A $3,000,000 Violin

Although the stolen violin may be too famous to be ransomed or sold on the black market, Becker added: "If someone got that instrument and saw that it was worth millions of dollars, they're not going to throw it in the trash can. Right? They're just not. They're going to try and figure out a way to cash in on that million dollars."

Among others interviewed are Rachel Barton Pine, the noted Chicago violinist, and Amy Dickinson, the Chicago Tribune syndicated advice columnist who reported on the stolen violin for the Washington Post in 1999. It also features archival concert footage from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“The story is really a classic whodunit mystery," said Zach Ben-Amots, executive producer, director, writer and editor of the documentary. "It plays out like an Agatha Christie novel, only with music instead of murder."

Jordan Arseneau also served as an executive producer.

Thursday's comment of the day: Mark Mardell: Here's hoping that after the disgraceful way that The Mix and the Chicago Blackhawks have mishandled accusations of sexual misconduct, businesses and organizations will learn that it is better to deal with the problem than to sweep it under the rug.