50 guns, 2,000 rounds stolen Thieves target U-Haul storage unit in Lodi By Layla Bohm News-Sentinel Staff Writer Updated: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 6:20 AM PST Comments (75 comment(s)) When Kenneth Warren moved to San Joaquin County to take care of his elderly parents, he wanted to make sure his gun collection was safe. He kept about 50 guns and as much as 2,000 rounds of ammunition in a double-walled, fireproof safe that, when empty, weighed 1,300 pounds. He moved it into a climate-controlled metal and concrete storage unit at U-Haul in Lodi. And he even got a second-floor storage unit for added security. But on Dec. 31, thieves managed to get into the gated 450 N. Cherokee Lane storage business. They made it past a locked door, up the stairs, down a hallway and around a corner. And then they broke the lock and managed to drag the full safe back out the way they came. "I had it in the biggest, most secure safe the company makes," Warren said Monday at the door of his now-empty storage unit. "I thought I had done everything short of putting them in Fort Knox." Now, about 50 guns are somewhere on the streets. A few are antique rifles from his grandfathers, and some are .45-caliber handguns in mint condition. It's a collection of about half rifles and half handguns, and Warren knows personally that nearly all of them are more than capable of firing accurately. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition — some of which is no longer made because it has been outlawed because it can penetrate body armor — is also on the loose. As if that's not enough, various knives were also in the safe. The collection, which Warren had spent his life building as an investment for retirement, is valued at more than $70,000. He didn't have insurance because he'd spent thousands of dollars to protect the collection and thought it was secure. The theft sickens Warren because he lost a lifetime of collecting, but he's even more concerned that his guns might wind up in the hands of criminals who could use them for harm. Warren is still going through his records — each gun was obtained legally and was registered to him — and Lodi police are still logging each gun as "stolen" in a nationwide system that tracks firearms. Police are still investigating and are hoping a hand print could help the case. But, there was no video surveillance, and so far they have not identified any suspects, said Officer Dale Eubanks, who tracked down and interviewed every person who entered a key-coded gate at the storage center. Warren, who spent years in the Navy before going into construction, never married or had children, so he spent his spare money on his gun collection. "As a single guy, I could either drink and gamble or I could buy stuff," he said. It started with a few antiques passed down from Warren's grandfathers and a great-grandfather, including guns and some pocket watches. Over the years, Warren added to the collection. Many of the guns were limited editions, with gold plating and fine detail. Some were pictured in gun collector magazines touting that only a handful had ever been made. When Warren lived in the Grass Valley area 15 years ago, he kept the whole collection in a safe in his home. He'd show the collection to a few trusted buddies, always making sure to lock the safe. Then he moved to Stockton and searched for the most secure storage unit. Warren had to get a crane to move the safe, which weighed roughly 1,800 pounds when full. For the past 10 years, Warren said, he has paid his storage rent on time each month in cash. He prefers to use cash because he never got into credit cards and computers. Now he wonders if the cash payments drew unwanted attention, along with his gold bracelets, necklace, rings and large belt buckle. He's a wiry man with sideburns and a goatee, and he walks quickly in his polished black boots. Neither he nor police doubt that Warren's storage unit was targeted. It's not easy to find and is only another numbered orange door. And there's the fact that the heist was carried out in broad daylight: At 1:29 p.m. that New Year's Eve Monday, the thieves apparently had a bit of trouble getting out of the storage center's rolling locked gate. The culprits tried in vain to use Warren's storage unit number as a code on the keypad. That attempt was recorded on U-Haul's computer system, and police think another car must have opened the gate and ultimately allowed the crooks to escape. The thieves left burgundy scrape marks along the concrete floor leading from Warren's storage unit, and Eubanks said they apparently used dumbbells to move it to a freight elevator. From there, it was just a few short feet out a rear door to a waiting vehicle. A coffee table and blanket were also missing, which Eubanks thinks may have been used to hide the safe from public view. The theft devastated Warren, who said he feels like a car accident victim. He discovered the loss the next day, when he went to do a detailed inventory and take photos for a gun enthusiast in Chicago. The man was interested in buying much of Warren's collection, and the base negotiation price had started at $70,000. Warren, who probably knows more about guns than many officers, wants to see the collection recovered, even if it is damaged. He knows the monetary value of the weapons, but he also knows the damage they can do. On the off chance that someone does return the guns, Warren vows to reward them. "I don't have any cash to offer anybody, but if I get them back, I'll come up with something," he said. Anyone with information on the weapons is asked to contact Lodi police at 333-6727. Anonymous callers, who may be eligible for a cash reward, may contact Lodi-Area Crime Stoppers at 333-6771. Contact reporter Layla Bohm at [email protected].