When Washington State University senior Rachel Murphy got a phone call from police last week, she’d almost lost hope.
A Spokane officer told the music performance major that her tenor saxophone, stolen from the trunk of her car in May, had been recovered.
“The police officer called me while I was at work, and I was super busy,” said Murphy, who lives in Pullman. “But I heard his voice mail, and it sounded important, so I went outside.”
This week, the prized instrument is back in Murphy’s hands and Matthew Babb, 37, of Idaho, faces a money laundering charge after he attempted to sell the saxophone July 31 at the Double Eagle Pawn on Sprague Avenue.
Murphy reported her saxophone stolen from outside her Pullman apartment in May, along with her wallet and credit and debit cards. The saxophone, a tenor Selmer with a brass matte finish, was taken from her locked trunk, she said.
“It was hidden underneath a bunch of stuff,” said Murphy, who added she doesn’t normally store her saxophone in her car.
The case also contained a mouthpiece Murphy said was given to her by her former band director at Battle Ground High School. “That was the only thing that was absolutely irreplaceable,” she said.
The theft prompted a police report and daily checks of Craigslist and eBay for her purloined sax. But months went by, and Murphy finally filed an insurance claim so that she could buy a new saxophone for the upcoming school year. The check was due to arrive the same week police called Murphy to tell her the instrument had been found.
Babb walked into the Spokane pawn shop July 31 and tried to sell the instrument to Double Eagle manager Ken Craudell, who immediately sensed something fishy. Craudell said he thought the saxophone was worth about $10,000, but Babb was only asking $1,000.
So Craudell called law enforcement, who told him to keep Babb in the store while they combed records of stolen goods in the area.
“I stalled him as long as I could,” Craudell said. “He was in the store for probably 40 minutes.”
Store employees also took photos of Babb’s Subaru sedan and license plate in case he left, Craudell said. When Babb sensed law enforcement were being alerted, he fled the store with the sax, he later told police.
Police used the license plate and vehicle description to track Babb about an hour later to the Garland neighborhood, where he’d tried unsuccessfully to sell the saxophone to a musical instrument dealer.
Babb told officers he’d been given the instrument in Moscow, Idaho, and knew it was stolen. He drove to Spokane to sell the saxophone to make more money than he could in Idaho, Babb told investigators. He also admitted to a drug addiction, according to court documents.
Babb was extradited to Idaho on other criminal charges, according to court records.
Murphy said she’s keeping her saxophone close by from now on. After several months, she had thought her instrument was long gone.
“I thought it would have been farther away,” she said.