New rewards offered in case of stolen championship boxing belts

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When Tony Zale’s prized championship boxing belts disappeared from the International Boxing Hall of Fame in November 2015, his great-niece wondered why details weren’t shared with the public for a few days.

“Meanwhile, I’m thinking these belts could be anywhere in the world. Why are you delaying the public knowledge of this? If Babe Ruth’s anything was stolen,that would be front-page news instantly,” Haley Zale said.

She has launched a social media campaign, asking for help from fans and well-known boxers. Four of the stolen belts were earned decades ago by Carmen Basilio. Two belonged to Zale.

Mike Tyson posted his support on Facebook, offering a reward for information leading to the recovery of the belts.

Among the items he is offering are a signed boxing glove, his book, and a t-shirt. He writes: “The championship belt represents years of blood, sweat and tears the fighter goes through just to enter the ring.” The statement accompanies a picture of the boxing wearing his own championship belt.

On the day of the theft, Canastota Police Chief James Zophy says he waited for the boxers’ families to be notified first….before they might read about the crime online.

He also thought making the announcement on a Monday when newsrooms are fully staffed, rather than a weekend, would garner more media attention.

Looking back, watching a social media campaign grow in the past few months, he questions whether an earlier announcement would have made a difference.

“With all of the press, with all of the help from the news media, from social media, we’ve only developed one lead,” Zophy said.

The biggest lead his crew gathered, was right at the crime scene – and it could solve the case.

DNA evidence was sent to a lab in November. But crimes like rape and murder are placed as a higher priority for processing.

“I don’t think that they are punishing us, nor do I think that they are just not doing their job. I think they are backlogged and I think this is what it is taking them to take care of the DNA process,” Zophy said.

Once the case makes it to the top of the list, the test results will be entered into a database where investigators can see if there is a match. They can also compare the tests with DNA gathered at other museum thefts.

If there’s no immediate hit in the database, the results would still remain in the system in case the thief is arrested for another crime in the future involving DNA testing.

Zophy says his crew spent time gathering camera footage from businesses near the crime scene in Canastota.

The one crucial place without surveillance video – was the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

“It’s infuriating that there were no surveillance cameras,” Zale said. “I assumed that there were. I assumed that we put these items that belonged to the Zale family in good faith to be displayed.”

Since the thefts, security has been upgraded at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, according to Executive Director Ed Brophy.

“It includes multi-camera coverage, along with the alarm system that was in place. Now the multi-cameras, both interior and exterior, have been in place and that covers 24-hours, 7 days a week,” Brophy said.

Zale said her great-uncle’s presidential citizen’s medal has been removed from the museum by the family, though she suggests there is a chance it might be returned someday. First, she hopes for closure once those DNA tests are done.

“We’re hoping that that returns with good news, that there is someone in the system, that we do have a suspect,” she added.

Tips can be shared with the Canastota Police Department at 315-697-2240.

Click here to see the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s website, where pictures of the belts are published, along with links to the information about some rewards being offered in the case.

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