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River parishes bureau

GONZALES — On Dec. 1, two masked men broke into a Richmond, Texas, home, waited for the family members to return, tied them up and put a gun in a 12-year-old’s mouth to make her father say where his valuables were, Texas authorities said.

The men got away with $500,000 in precious metals and cash from the Houston-area family, as well as the family’s sport utility vehicle, authorities said.

The father is in the gold exchange business, Maj. Jerry Clements of the Fort Bend County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office, confirmed.

The home invasion — still unsolved — is one of many frauds, robberies and even some killings that Doug Davis, founder of the Numismatic Crime Information Center, is tracking.

Davis, a Texas policeman who retired after 34 years of service, said he posts summaries of the crimes on his website to notify other dealers and collectors in hopes of getting law enforcement authorities crucial tips.

One of the latest to show up on Davis’ site is the Feb. 18 triple-homicide case in Ascension Parish. A husband, wife and her adult son had their throats slashed in the couple’s Gonzales-area house on Babin Road and the husband’s collection of coins was gone, sheriff’s deputies have said.

Davis, 59, who was chief of the Pantego, Texas, Police Department for two decades, said precious metals, jewelry and other valuables have gained attention from criminals in the down economy of the past few years and as the values of precious metals have risen on commodities markets.

While he said there are hundreds of robberies and frauds involving coins and precious metals, he said horrific crimes such as the Gonzales robbery-killings or the robbery of the family in the Houston area are getting coin enthusiasts’ attention.

“It’s putting people on edge. The security level is a little higher than what it has been,” he said.

The last of the victims and potential eyewitness to the Gonzales attack died Friday: Shirley Ann Marchand, 72, the wife of Robert Irwin Marchand, 74.

The motive for the attack is believed to be Robert Marchand’s collection of coins with a value estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, sheriff’s deputies have said.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley has said that investigators notified coin dealers and others in the business shortly after the bodies of Marchand, Shirley Marchand and her son, Douglas Dooley, 50, of Cross Plains, Texas, were found. The men were found dead in the house.

Davis said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office is aggressively working the Marchand case.

On Friday, Wiley said that his department “will continue to devote the full measure of Sheriff’s Office resources toward bringing those responsible for the commission of this horrific crime to justice.”

Michael Fuljenz, owner of a company that buys and sells rare coins and bullion, said rare coins and precious metals can be easy for criminals to dump without making it easy for police to trace the valuables.

He said owners should do what they can to protect themselves.

“There has always been risk in that you might be a target,” Fuljenz said.

He pointed to another coin-related slaying in Louisiana that happened more than a decade ago.

Jeanette Mestayer, 64, was found dead in her house in New Iberia on Dec. 30, 1999, her coin collection missing, said Capt. Ryan Turner, spokesman for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In 2009, Mestayer’s coin dealer, Ron Busby, 52, of Texas, was arrested and booked with one count of felony theft. Busby was a person of interest in her slaying, Turner said, but no one has been arrested and prosecuted for killing Mestayer.

Busby is awaiting trial, possibly next month, said Bo Duhé, first assistant district attorney for the 16th Judicial District, a three-parish area that include Iberia Parish.

Turner said the homicide investigation of Mestayer is still pending.

Safety tips that Fuljenz offered included using a bank safe deposit instead of an in-home safe. A listing of safety tips he provided also said that if a safe is used in the home, it should be heavy enough so that it can’t be easily moved, or be secured to the floor.

Fuljenz’s list also says owners should be careful who they tell about their collections.

Robert Marchand often showed his collection to relatives and friends, according to a family obituary read at his funeral.

His safe was found in a wooded area off Perrilloux Road in Livingston Parish, which investigators verified through the discovery of a single silver coin.