By Kate Howard
The 1965 Corvette was worth maybe $2,200 when a thief stole it off Lower Broadway 39 years ago. The rightful owner will drive it back home this week, worth 30 times what he lost, after it was recovered nearly four decades later in Arizona.
Chance Mayfield parked the convertible, Nassau blue with a white top, on Lower Broadway and went to the honky-tonks in November 1970. It was a great night at the Broadway Barn, he said, until he walked out to the parking lot and the like-new muscle car was gone.
"That ruined my night," Mayfield said with a chuckle.
The pain of losing the spotless car was already long forgotten when he got a phone call this summer from a detective who said his car had been found. Once he got his mind around what car he was talking about, Mayfield thought someone was playing a prank on him.
After four or five years passed with no sign of the car, Mayfield figured he'd never see it again. But dreams, he said, do come true, and on his 68th birthday he got word that court cases with the most recent owner had been resolved.
The completely restored Corvette, which looks like it spent years as part of various collectors' stock, is now his to take home. He's taking a trailer out to Arizona and he'll bring it home to Putnam County - about two hours east of Nashville - next week.
The car was discovered when a collector, who bought the car for about $65,000, took it to the department of motor vehicles for an inspection. The inspector ran the serial number through the National Insurance Claims Bureau, and it came up stolen from 1970.
Of all the things that seem unbelievable about this case - that nobody checked the car against the insurance database before this year, or that the car looks better than ever - most amazing to the detectives involved was that the original 1970 police report was still sitting in an archive box. Mayfield's insurance had lapsed just before the theft, so he never got a paid claim for it. The Metro police clear their stolen car cases of the national crime database every six years or so. That piece of paper was enough to determine the car belonged to Mayfield.
"It helped me a lot because it helped me verify Mr. Mayfield's story," said Detective Mark Wagner of the Scottsdale, Ariz., police department. "We couldn't believe it still existed.
"When I called Nashville to tell him we found this car and the detective stopped laughing, he said he'd check the archive, and there it was."
Oldest case solved
Metro car theft detective William Dillon took the call, and says it's definitely the oldest case they've resolved. Detectives tracked the car back to California and then to New Jersey in 2000, and the business that sold it has since closed.
"We'll never figure out who stole it in the very beginning," Dillon said. "It's just an old theft that will actually come to a conclusion."
An old theft with a lesson: "Just because you put your car (behind) you as stolen, don't think we won't recover it sometime," Dillon said.