Durango crime spree ends in Vegas


Durango crime spree ends in Vegas

Police arrest suspect in numerous armed robberies and burglaries


Durango crime spree ends in Vegas


Nighthorse Campbell's unique jewelry key to case

By Ted Holteen

Herald Staff Writer

Sorrel Sky Gallery owner Shanan Campbell Wells called the Las Vegas arrest of 28-year-old Brett Combs "a miracle" Thursday as she anticipated the return of 22 pieces of her father’s jewelry once the investigation is complete.

"If it wasn’t for the Night-horse jewelry, it would never have been traced back to here," Wells said.

Combs was arrested in Las Vegas on Jan. 8 and was in possession of 22 of the 48 pieces created by former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell that were stolen in a Nov. 17 armed robbery at the Durango gallery.

Of the stolen pieces, those recovered were the most valuable monetarily and sentimentally, Wells said. The value of the recovered pieces is in excess of $400,000, and the total value stolen exceeded $500,000.

"These are irreplaceable pieces that represent the last five years of his work. He’s 76 years old, and for this gentleman to steal this was to steal a piece of history," Wells said Thursday at the gallery.

Las Vegas police raided Combs’ house on a tip that he was planning the robbery of an armored truck. Inside, they found a large inventory of items now believed to have been taken in a series of New Mexico and Colorado robberies, several at Durango businesses. At the time, Detective Chris Boddie said Las Vegas police had no way of tracing the items except for the jewelry, which was stamped with the Nighthorse trademark.

"We didn’t know if it was a person’s name or a brand name, so we looked it up on the Internet," Boddie said Thursday by phone.

The Las Vegas investigators called Jay Talent at Canyon Country Collectibles, who also distributes Campbell’s work. Talent put them in touch with Campbell’s wife, Linda. Boddie said without the unique label, the jewelry, as well as the other stolen merchandise, would likely still be sitting in a Las Vegas evidence room.

Linda Campbell said she received a phone call Jan. 14. "The officer said, ‘Did you guys lose any jewelry?’ I said ‘Yeah, we did,’" Linda Campbell said Thursday from her home in Ignacio.

She said she called Durango Police, who in turn called Las Vegas and filled the police in on Combs’ entire alleged crime spree.

Linda Campbell said that although her family first learned of Combs’ arrest more than two weeks ago, they were asked to keep quiet about it until the Durango Police Department could travel to Las Vegas with a gallery employee who positively identified Combs as the robber. Campbell said she never gave up hope that the jewelry would be recovered – the family recently located a ring stolen in 1992 on eBay – and is waiting for its return.

"Detective Boddie said, ‘I can’t tell you when you’ll get it back, but I can tell you it’s safe,’" she said.

Several days after the robbery in November, Wells held a reopening party at the gallery that included a blessing by Southern Ute Tribal member Eddie Box, a longtime friend of her father. She said after the blessing, Box turned to her and made a prophetic statement.

"He said, ‘I’m hearing slot machines. Maybe you should be looking in casinos.’ Then the jewelry turns up in Vegas," she said.

Since the robbery, Wells has installed a system of high-definition surveillance cameras at Sorrel Sky Gallery but hopes it is never used. As for Combs, Wells remains conciliatory.

"We actually prayed for the robber," she said.

"I think our staff holding onto that idea of peace and forgiveness brought us to where we are now."


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