Someone on Twitter opined that it was a good enough reason to bring back the death penalty, which is clearly a little excessive. But Canada’s parliament might want to convene quickly to see if it can at least get public flogging back on the books.
In the most recent installment of the World’s Most Idiotic Criminals™, two people have been arrested after it was discovered that more than a half-a-million dollars worth of memorabilia was stolen from Walter Gretzky’s home in Brantford, Ont., over the summer. Police have yet to identify the 58-year-old man from Oakville and the 58-year-old woman from Brockville who have been arrested, perhaps out of concern for their safety.
We know this much. In August, the Gretzky family contacted police in Brantford to report that a number of pieces of Wayne Gretzky’s memorabilia had gone missing. Police soon learned that a number of items had been sold around Canada and in early December, executed search warrants at five homes in Ontario and Alberta. There they recovered game-uses sticks, hockey gloves, pants, sweaters (including his sweater from the 1997 All-Star Game in San Jose) and a plaque commemorating him being named NHL player of the year in 1983-84. They also found evidence of another person who was believed to have committed fraud that involved a Gretzky hockey stick.
It’s believed that both of the suspects have been known to the Gretzky family for quite some time and, unknown to them, have been accumulating items over the years. One source with knowledge of the situation said the woman who was charged contacted a memorabilia dealer offering to sell a stick from Wayne’s childhood that she claimed had been give to her by Walter. The stick, which was reportedly purchased for $6,000, was tracked down by authorities and the person who purchased it was questioned by police. (Calls to the Brantford Police Service were not returned.)
For our American friends, let’s put it this way. Stealing from an 82-year-old Walter Gretzky would be the equivalent of shooting a bald eagle while throwing a burning flag on Captain Kangaroo’s childhood home in the hopes of burning it to the ground. It’s all kinds of deplorable to steal someone’s sports memorabilia and sell it. But to have the audacity to steal from the greatest dad of the greatest player ever to play the game? Well, that requires the coldest of hearts. What it does not require is a great amount of foresight and reasoning. You’d have to think it was pretty easy to track these objects down, particularly when you have the local police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the case. When you’re talking about Wayne Gretzky, it’s best to call in the big guns.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the items totaling a half a million dollars were taken in plain sight. You see, that’s the way Walter rolls. At least until COVID hit, if you were in the neighborhood of 42 Varadi, Ave., in Brantford, chances are you’d be able to show up at Walter’s door and get yourself a private tour of his house and permission to look at all the artifacts he has saved over the years. Who knows how many of those people have taken advantage of an unsuspecting and trusting Walter Gretzky to grab something when he wasn’t looking and walk off with it?
When Walter meets someone, he’s usually smiling and joking and taking as much interest in you as you have in him. He’s the kind of person who prefers to see the good in everyone, and wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to open his home and his heart to people. And that’s what makes this all so troubling. If Walter had simply wanted to make money, he could have sold any number of his son’s artifacts for ridiculous sums. But he chose to keep it, likely because he saw it as something of a public trust. Wayne Gretzky’s dad could have retreated out of the public eye a long time ago and nobody would have blamed him. A massive stroke suffered in 1991 that by all accounts should have killed him ended up robbing him of much of his memory, particularly those from the 1970s through the 1990s. And in 2005, his wife Phyllis died, and eight years ago, he received the news that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
(I recall speaking to Walter one time at an event a couple of years after he recovered. I was struggling to come up with the name of a player and, without missing a beat, he said, “At least I can say I’ve had a stroke. What’s your excuse?”)
Walter never allowed those setbacks to define him, nor did he use them as an excuse to retreat out of the public eye. There’s a good chance his penchant for unconditional love and trust, some of the most worthy qualities you can find in a person, led to him being taken advantage of by people who would have no problem stealing from the vulnerable and generous. And those are dirt bags of the highest order.