The Case of the Disappearing Diamond and the Disco Duck

On June 4, 1968, a man walked into San Antonio’s Witte Museum in broad daylight carrying an aluminum lawn chair and a hammer. When a security guard went on break, the man walked up to a prominent display case containing the world’s largest emerald-cut canary diamond, the $365,000 McFarlin Diamond.

The thief smashed the display case and snatched the 49.73 carat diamond from its red velvet display. At the sound of the alarm, the man ran and used the aluminum lawn chair to block the exit gate of the McFarlin room,  keeping the security guards from chasing after him. The thief hurried past a few visitors and ·sped away in a waiting car.

The $365,000 McFarlin diamond, a 49.73 carat emerald-cut canary diamond, was stolen from the Witte Museum in June 1968. The diamond would be worth an estimated $2.45 million today

A nationwide search began for the jewel thief and his accomplish. Along with the McFarlin Diamond, the thief also stole several smaller emeralds. Trustees of the Witle Museum offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to recovery of the gem, which had once belonged to the Maharajah of Mahratta of India. The diamond eventually found its way to New York, where it was purchased by E. B. McFarlin of San Antonio in 1956. The McFarlin family gave the 49-carat stone to the Witte two years later, where it was prominently displayed as the McFarlin Diamond.

The name McFarlin would be familiar to many San Antonians because of the McFarlin Tennis Center near downtown, which was created in part by donations from its namesake family. The McFarlin family were old oil money from Oklahoma. Many members of the McFarlin family settled in San Antonio, donating money to institutions like Trinity University and the San Antonio School District.

Some extended members of the McFarlin family were said to be quite eccentric, especially one named Harry. According to an employee at Mad Michael’s, a popular San Antonio club in the 1960s and 1970s, Harry had a pet duck he took everywhere with him. Harry would drive around San Antonio in his Rolls Royce with the duck in the front seat along with him.

Harry would also bring the duck into the club and leave it on top of the bar while Harry hit the dance floor. The employees at Mad Michael’s were also told to leave Harry and his duck alone. Some said that Harry and his pet duck were the inspiration for the 1970s hit song, “Disco Duck.”

San Antonio’s E.B. McFarlin, oilman and owner of the $365,000 diamond.

But back to the case of the missing diamond. San Antonio Police Detective Larry Parnell, one of three San Antonio policemen assigned full-time to the case, said a fingerprint from the lawn chair,  an artist’s sketch and one recovered emerald were the only clues police had in the robbery. But the case eventually stalled and went cold.

Then around 10 months later on March 24, 1969, two men were arrested in connection with stealing $300,000 worth of rare coins from a Kingsville businessman at gunpoint. The men were J.B. Wright and Cecil Yancey Evans, both 48 and both of Gal­veston.  They were charged with taking the coin collection from the home of R.C. Bennett. The arrest was made in a Galveston motel at dawn on March 25. Kingsville police chief Paul Hulsey said he and Texas Ranger Glen Krueger “just followed their trail.”

Cecil Yancey Evans pled guilty to stealing the McFarlin Diamond from the Witte Museum. But he never revealed who his accomplices were.

Wright was a drifter, but Evans reportedly came from a very wealthy and socially prominent family from the Rio Grande Valley. He was a former star football player at Texas A&I University. He also played professional football with the Philadelphia Eagles. On a hunch, Krueger said he asked Evans if he knew of the McFarlin jewel, “taken from the Witte Museum last June.” Krueger said Evans admitted he did it.

“I took the McFarlin diamond.” Evans said flatly in U. S. District Court February 14, 1969. The paunchy, balding Evans also stated he transported the diamond from Texas to Phoenix, Arizona, after snatching it from the Witte Museum. He said he was supposed to be paid $25,000, but only received $6,000 for the diamond.

Evans did not reveal to authorities who drove the getaway car, who his accomplices were, whether the diamond heist was his idea, or whether he was hired to do the job by someone else. According to Kingsville Assistant District Attorney John Stafford, Evans said he “feared for his life.” Evans refused to finger any accomplices in the crimes. “He has been pretty cooperative with us up to that point,” Stafford said.

Some law enforcement officers speculated that Evans was working for the Italian Mob or Lebanese gangsters when he stole the McFarlin Diamond. But no evidence or link could be substantiated.

Witte Museum Director William A. Burns expressed doubt that 49.73 carat diamond was still in the country. “The pale yellow diamond probably still is one piece, but my intuitive feeling is that it has’flown out-of the continental limits of the United States ” Burns also speculated that the McFarlin Diamond could have been cut into smaller pieces (greatly reducing its value) and sold on the black market.

Evans plead guilty to stealing the McFarlin diamond and was sentenced on April, 1969, to a 10-year federal term. He was also sentenced to an additional two years in prison for the theft of the coins belonging to R.C. Bennet. Wright was not named in the charges surrounding the McFarlin diamond.

According to an article in Texas Monthly Magazine in 1974, Evans allegedly told authorities he was will­ing to tell where the diamond was, “but not unless the feds or the state grant him favors.” Apparently no deal was ever struck and the McFarlin Diamond has never been seen again. Evans served his time and died in 1997.

 

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