World-class fiddler joyfully reunited with violin after thief swiped it from car in downtown Portland

A man with a gray beard and a cap holds up a violin and four bows as he smiles widely.

Fiddler Alasdair Fraser is seen here with his violin and bows on the day he flew up to retrieve them from the David Kerr Violin Shop in Southeast Portland on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023.Courtesy of Kyra Hazilla

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World-renowned fiddler Alasdair Fraser’s massive social media campaign paid off: He has gotten back his violin and bows after a thief stole them from his rental car in downtown Portland last month.

Two people showed up with the stolen items at Southeast Portland’s David Kerr Violin Shop and sold them to the shop Wednesday afternoon. The shop soon identified them as stolen and less than 24 hours later, Fraser was reunited with his beloved violin and four bows.

They’re undamaged. A photo Fraser posted Thursday to Facebook shows him standing in the violin shop, his eyes twinkling and his face beaming.

After searching for four days in Portland last month and then flying home to California defeated, Fraser had lost all hope — until an employee at the violin shop gave him a call.

“I’d actually begun looking for something else to play,” Fraser told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Friday. “I was never going to see these instruments again. You move on. I was grieving. And suddenly to be jolted with this phone call? I was in shock.”

“Fortune was shining upon us,” Fraser added, noting that now he and his musical partner – cellist Natalie Haas – have both recovered the instruments most important to them.

Their tribulations began Nov. 13, when they arrived in Portland to perform at the Alberta Rose Theatre to mark the end of a two-week tour.

Someone broke into their rental car while it was parked near the Multnomah County Central Library, emptying its contents – Fraser’s violin and bows, Haas’ cello, sheet music with precious handwritten notes, various pieces of musical equipment and their luggage and clothes.

The pair recovered Haas’ cello that same day from a stranger who read Haas’ phone number on the case and told her that he’d bought it from a man on the street for $40 but soon had a change of heart.

Haas flew home to Spain, but Fraser stuck around for four more days – tracking down witnesses, talking to police and plastering stolen-items fliers to lamp posts and bike racks.

“It was hard for me to leave,” said Fraser, who lives in the Grass Valley area of California. “I hated to leave with a piece of me missing.”

But before either one of them had flown home, they had stopped by the David Kerr Violin Shop – one of the oldest in the Portland area – to ask staff to be on the lookout for anyone trying to sell their stolen possessions. Twenty-three days later, that effort paid off.

Longtime employee Esther Shim said two people arrived at the shop Wednesday afternoon, saying they’d tried to sell the violin and bows at Trade Up Music but that Trade Up Music referred them to the David Kerr Violin shop given the caliber of the equipment.

Shim said the couple told owner David Kerr that an acquaintance who had been living with them moved out and left the violin and bows behind.

Kerr didn’t initially realize the items belonged to Fraser and believed the story was plausible, Shim said. It’s not unusual for people to sell instruments that they’ve inherited or were passed on to them, she said.

So Kerr cut the couple a check after taking down at least one of their names from their identification.

“After the people left, things moved pretty quickly,” Shim said.

Staff member Andy Emert recognized Fraser’s violin and bows, the store canceled its check, Shim called Fraser and Fraser was up at 5 a.m. the next day to catch a plane to Portland.

By noon Thursday he was standing in the shop, grasping the violin he’s performed with for the past 40 years as he’s traveled around the world, as well as the bows, including a 19th century French one particularly special to him.

Fraser declined to pin a dollar value on his musical items, saying their emotional value to him far exceeds that. The violin shop also declined to state the amount it paid the couple.

Fraser posted about his stroke of luck on Facebook and within hours hundreds of fans and supporters were celebrating the news as “A Hanukkah miracle!” and “The best news ever! Merry Christmas!” Thousands of fans had been following Fraser’s and Haas’ weeks-long saga via social media.

“There were a lot of invested people and it’s the kind of good news that a lot of us wanted this year,” Shim said.

Shim said the store isn’t out any money. And after it canceled the check, the two people who sold the violin and bows haven’t returned to complain.

Fraser told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the past 48 hours have been a whirlwind. He hasn’t had time to call police to update them on the information the shop passed along to him about the sellers. But he certainly will.

Portland police said they haven’t made any arrests in the case. Sgt. Kevin Allen said police would like anyone with tips to email and reference case number 23-295890.

After picking up his violin, Fraser gave a free impromptu lesson to an 11-year-old Portlander – a big Fraser fan called to the store by Shim for the special treat.

Then Fraser made the four-mile trip in his rental car to downtown’s Shemanski Park, where he’d gone after the theft to talk to anyone he encountered in the area – mostly people experiencing homelessness – to try to get a lead.

Back in November, one of the people in the park told him that he’d witnessed a man haul Fraser’s violin and Haas’ suitcase there and dig through it.

Fraser said he planned this time to tell people that he’d gotten the violin back and maybe play a tune for them in celebration.

But when he got there, he had second thoughts.

“You know why?” Fraser said.”I didn’t want to park the car.”

So Fraser drove to the airport and headed home. There, he brought his violin to a local music shop.

“It was like I took it to the spa,” Fraser said, chuckling.

He said in the last few weeks, he had tried out replacement violins and bows, but none seemed quite right. With his stolen violin and bows back in his hands this week, he said he felt at peace.

“I said ‘Oh yeah,’” Fraser recounted. “I’m really genuinely happy to get my old instruments back. I want to go home and write a ton of music.”

-- Aimee Green;; @o_aimee

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