Someone actually lifted the famous gold bar Wednesday evening from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
The 5-pound bar, from the 15th century Spanish galleon the Nuestra Señora de Atocha that Fisher and his crew found off Key West in 1985, was stolen from its secure Plexiglas enclosure about 5:13 p.m., Key West police said.
Security cameras captured images of two people breaking into the case and taking the bar from what museum director Melissa Kendrick called one of Fisher's favorite exhibits, because it allowed visitors to hold the same treasure -- to "lift the gold bar" -- found by his team.
One suspect was described as a white male about 6 feet tall, with dark hair and a medium build. The second suspect is about 5 foot 6 inches tall, reports say, and could be a woman or a man. Detectives were still working on identifying the suspects as of press time Thursday.
According to a police report, a security guard told a museum visitor to "make sure to touch the gold bar," but when the visitor arrived at the exhibit, the bar was gone. The woman reportedly did not see anyone take the bar or acting suspiciously.
Detectives declined to say how they think the suspects broke into the exhibit, said police spokeswoman Alyson Crean. The FBI is working with Key West police, Crean said. The federal agency also investigates art and jewelry/gem theft, according to http://www.fbi.gov/hq.htm.
Kendrick declined to speculate on the bar's worth, noting such treasure has an "antiquity value" on top of the actual gold value. A 5-pound solid gold bar would be worth about $98,800 in today's market, according to gold prices posted Thursday afternoon at http://www.thestreet.com, a financial news website.
The museum is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the 5-pound bar's intact return, she said.
"This has never happened since we've been here," Kendrick said, referring to the museum's location at 200 Greene St.
In the 1970s, a group stole a silver bar that weighed about 70 pounds from Fisher, but that was before the current museum with its security measures were in place, Kendrick said. It was never recovered.
Former Mel Fisher diver Don Kincaid, who helped recover many artifacts in the early 1980s, was staggered to hear of Wednesday's theft.
"To my knowledge, something like this has never happened before," Kincaid said. "The design of the case that bar was in has thus far been completely successful. The ability to touch that bar was the most common compliment we would get from visitors. It's one of only a few museums where you can touch history."
Detectives ask anyone with information to call 305-809-1015 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-346-8477.