December 15, 2009 in City

Stolen VW van, claimed by many, may find next owner at auction

By The Spokesman-Review
 
File photo

The only photo Michele Squires, left, had of her stolen van is this one taken in the 1970s with a friend.
(Full-size photo)

Taking offers  I  Anyone interested in bidding on the van can visit copart.com. The live, virtual auction begins at noon Friday, and the company is taking preliminary bids for the van until that time. A membership fee is required to bid.

The latest stop for a well- traveled 1965 Volkswagen van – stolen in Spokane and discovered 35 years later on a ship headed for Europe – will be the auction block.

Allstate Insurance Co. announced Monday it will auction the van and donate the proceeds to a Bellingham homeless shelter. The decision left the long-ago owner of the van, Michele “Mikey” Squires, of Spokane, disappointed but philosophical.

“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “Of course, I’d like to have it. It’s brought back a whole bunch of good memories. I’ve got a good story for my grandkids.”

The company’s decision upset those involved in the VW’s latest sale. Donn Dabney, a classic car dealer in Sonoma, Calif., sold the restored van this fall for more than $20,000 to a German buyer. He said the decision makes him furious, because the van had been registered with an apparently clean title, and the buyer did nothing wrong.

“It’s obvious whose bus it is, and everybody knows it,” he said. “We’re all just sick that they did this.”

Allstate announced it would auction the van and donate the proceeds to Lydia Place, a homeless shelter for women and children in Bellingham. Allstate, which has regional offices in Bothell, has been a supporter of the shelter for several years.

“It’s our hope that the tremendous public interest in this unique vehicle and its unique history will translate into a significant contribution to Lydia Place,” said Michelle Lee, field vice president of Allstate’s northwest region.

The announcement ends weeks of uncertainty about the van and whether Squires might somehow get it back.

Squires, a 58-year-old manager at the Cathay Inn, owned the van before it was stolen from the parking lot of an upholstery shop in 1974. When the van was stolen, Allstate paid a claim of $2,500 and became the legal owner. In October, the van was seized by customs agents after a check of its vehicle identification number turned up the theft from 1974.

Meanwhile, though, the van had been re-registered and changed hands several times, after record of the theft expired from the FBI’s database.

The story drew nationwide attention, and people from all over the country contacted Squires and lobbied Allstate to return the van to her. She said Monday that she and her boyfriend plan to enter a bid in the online auction for the van, but she doubts that the several thousand dollars they can afford will be enough.

Though she was disappointed, Squires said she knew the insurance company had a difficult decision.

“I know it’s put them in a tough spot,” she said. “They probably did the right thing.”

Allstate spokeswoman Megan Brunet said that legally, all the titles on the vehicle since it was stolen were invalid. She said that deciding to give the van to one party or another would have raised issues of fairness. With the auction, anyone interested can bid and the money goes to a good cause, she said.

“How do you put one individual over another?” she said.

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