Jewelers in any given community are often a close-knit group, readily available to help one of their own when someone is in need. But what William Coldren III did to help a friend and former employer was above and beyond the call of duty.
Coldren’s successful attempt to help police identify and retrieve a stolen rare diamond and crack the theft of $700,000 worth of jewels might even be called heroic. And, in fact, the Seattle Police Department made it official when it honored Coldren with a civilian award for heroism during a ceremony in August.
A Denver, Pa., native who has lived in Seattle for nine years, Coldren credits his upbringing and his lifelong affiliation with the Masons for instilling in him the importance of helping others.
“Because I’m a third-generation family member of the Masonic lodge, I was taught from the time I was a little kid that you have to help your friends,” he says. “It’s always part of the Masonic lodge to help out your friends, and I never thought about refusing to help out my friends—I just did it.”
Going undercover. What Coldren did was volunteer to go undercover as part of an elaborate and dangerous sting operation. It involved Coldren’s making two trips into a jewelry fence’s operation—first, to identify whether the diamond in question was indeed the stolen diamond, then to buy the diamond.
The diamond was believed to be one of the items stolen in an armed robbery on Nov. 21, 2003, in which brothers Jeff and Greg Kincade made off with $700,000 in jewelry from Michael William Farrell Jewelers.
“It’s an incredible case,” says Seattle Police Detective Mike Magan, who headed the investigation. “Jewelry store robberies are kind of interesting. Generally, before they rob the stores they have a fence and a middleman set up to sell the diamonds, and most of these guys will take the stones out of the settings and then sell them.”
Magan says he was the third detective assigned to the case; by the time he received it, detectives already had done their best to locate the robbers but had been unsuccessful.
“Methodically, I got to thinking what the next step would be,” Magan says. “It was my belief, in this case, that it was time to stop looking for a suspect and start looking for a fence.”
This led Magan to receive word from an informant that a 4.2-ct. diamond was being sold by a fence who was known to Seattle police. It was believed that the stone was the center stone of a 7.2-ct. ring. Under normal circumstances, and because the diamond in question was stolen during an armed robbery, an armed undercover cop would be used to make the exchange. But this was no normal operation.
First, Magan says, there was concern that the fence, identified as Gerald Olson, might be able to identify the officer. Second, the undercover person would need a certain amount of expertise in order to identify the diamond. Third, if a jeweler was used as the undercover operative, he or she would have to be relatively unknown in the jewelry community. Magan says it is extremely rare for law authorities to ask a civilian to go undercover; he had never used anyone outside of law enforcement for such an operation.
The Farrells gave Magan the names of seven or eight jewelers who met the requirements. But all of them refused.
“It was Super Bowl Sunday and I was out interviewing and talking to those people,” Magan says. “I couldn’t fault them. We were knocking on doors so hard. We were pushing very hard. All these people wanted to help but said no.”
The Farrells then remembered Coldren and gave his name to Magan.
“I called Bill and he said, ‘No problem, I’ll do it,'” Magan recalls. “He had the credentials. He was a jeweler, an appraiser, and he had good speaking skills. I met him the next morning.”
Coldren’s size also was a factor in his selection: He is 6 ft., 5 in. tall, and looks, he says, “like a football player.”
“Bill’s a big, jolly guy with a good disposition and good outlook on life. He’s an honest, sincere, jovial type of person. Most police officers aren’t like that. And bad guys know that. That’s what Bill brought to the table, as well as his knowledge and expertise,” Magan says. “It was a risk sending Bill in there, but it was the only thing we had. It was the largest jewelry store robbery in the department’s history.”
Ironically, Coldren’s size was one of the reasons William W. Farrell hired him in the first place, and during the time Coldren worked for him, they became friends.
“Originally I hired him because we’d had an armed robbery 11 months earlier,” Farrell says. “He is a big guy and he fills up a room. About a year or so ago, I had to scale back because of the [most recent] robbery. I’m trying to recuperate from the losses. But I found [Bill] a nice job.”
The first meeting. Coldren first studied an appraisal of the missing diamond. He called Olson (the fence) and introduced himself as an appraiser and diamond broker, saying he had a client interested in buying the diamond. On March 2, he met Olson at his store.
“They advertise as a jewelry store, but there was not one stitch of jewelry in the storefront,” Coldren says. “It basically turns out that this guy sells out of his back room.
“The first time I met him I wasn’t nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” Coldren continues. “I had a micrometer to measure the diamond and a jeweler’s loupe to identify the inclusions. He [Olson] was a man of few words. I wasn’t supposed to ask any probing questions. I kept my conversation to a minimum. The first time I went in to identify the stone I used my own car to do that.
“I drove back to the precinct and reported the good news. I drew a map of the diamond and marked down the inclusions and used my micrometer, and everything was in two-tenths of a millimeter, the exact measurements.”
Olson was selling the diamond, valued at $57,000, for $25,000 in cash. “There are not too many people who have a $57,000 4.2-ct. princess-cut diamond selling for $25,000,” Magan says.
The main event. Magan says it took three days to set up the operation, which included getting a search warrant and an arrest warrant, setting up the sting with all the different departments, having everyone involved meet Coldren, and getting $25,000 in cash. “We had to order it because we didn’t have that much money in the department,” he says.
Because it was such a high-risk event and because they were using a civilian, a judge issued a “no-knock” search warrant. “We’d never gotten this before,” Magan says. With normal arrest warrants, police would be required to knock three times and announce who they are—but this requirement was waived by the judge.
The night before the sting, Coldren sat in the center among the assembled team leaders so he could be briefed and identified. “They basically prepared me the night before,” Coldren says. “I went to the local precinct, and I met everybody that was going to be there, and they needed to meet me [so I could] identify myself as one of the good guys.”
The operation included a helicopter, an armored “Peacekeeper” tank, a SWAT team, traffic cops—because they closed a section of a main highway—and outside departments including the Washington State Department of Corrections and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF). The team also videotaped the operation for future use as a training tool. All told, about 60 law enforcement officers were used for the sting.
“We ran a very neat sting operation,” Magan says. “If anything had happened, we were just seconds away. We had such a net, nobody could have gotten in or out.”
Day of reckoning. The sting went down on March 5. Again, Coldren called Olson to arrange the appointment ahead of time. Coldren went to the police precinct at about 9 a.m. There, he was equipped with an alarm device that was placed in his pocket. If something went wrong he was told to sound the alarm and dive to the floor.
“We met at the police precinct, and I was very lightly briefed as to what was going to happen. I was escorted to the store by an uncover policemen about half a block from the location. When we left the police station, that’s when I saw there must have been seven or eight undercover police cars and an armored tank,” he said. “The closer we got to the place the more intense it started becoming to me because of all this activity around me.
“It was quite simple,” he recalls. “I sat down. He pulled the diamond out of a little safe in the corner of the store. I looked at the clarity, mapped out the thumbprint, measured it, verified it was the correct stone, and handed him the $25,000 in cash.
“This guy was so familiar with large amounts of money that he did not physically count each bill. He basically took each bundle and placed it on a diamond scale and weighed it—so he’s very familiar with working with large amounts of money and what they should weigh. I shook his hand, turned around, and walked out the door.”
Coldren carried a briefcase with a shoulder strap. According to the plan, if the purchase wasn’t made, he was to carry the bag by the handle; if it was a good purchase, he would place the strap over his shoulder … which is what he did.
“I walked back to the same car that dropped me off,” he says. “When I was a safe distance away from the store, the armored truck and undercover guys rushed the store, and I heard them yelling ‘Get down, get down!'”
“We took this guy down like there was no tomorrow,” Magan says.
“When I finally sat down in the car after I saw all the policemen and the armored truck entering the business—that’s when I started to shake, and that’s when I realized how intense it was,” Coldren says. “I handed the diamond to the detective, and I just sat in the car shaking. It was the first time I felt any kind of fear.”
“Bill did such an exceptional job,” Magan says. “I don’t even think some of my co-workers could have pulled off what Bill pulled off.”
The result of the operation was the recovery of the 4.2-ct. diamond, which was indeed the center stone of the 7.2-ct. antique ring belonging to one of Farrell’s customers. In addition, police found approximately $100,000 worth of other stolen jewelry, Magan says.
The two men who robbed the Farrell store, Jeff and Greg Kincade, now are in jail. Greg Kincade offered to plea-bargain and will serve 15 years in jail, Magan says, but Jeff is a three-strikes candidate, so his case will take longer to prosecute. Both were charged with three counts of armed robbery and three counts of kidnapping. The kidnapping charges stem from the fact that the robbers forced two workers and a 70-year-old customer into a back room and hog-tied them with duct tape, Magan says.
As of the end of September, Olson remained a free man, but Magan said at the time that he was in the process of getting an arrest warrant for him.
A hero’s welcome. On Aug. 16, the Seattle Police Department held its fourth annual “Citizen Appreciation and Awards Ceremony.” A total of 41 awards were presented to city residents who exhibited either outstanding citizenship or heroism. Even in the midst of such a large group of achievers, Coldren stood out.
“I actually became so emotional I couldn’t believe it,” Coldren says. “I was told it was just going to be a citizenship award, and when I sat down with my co-workers I was listed in the heroism section, and I got emotional because I’d never been acknowledged on that level before.”
Magan, who nominated Coldren for the award, was present at the ceremony, as were the Farrells.
“I think at the presentation it was obvious that among all the people who were given awards for helping the police, his was beyond a doubt the riskiest of all,” Farrell said. “A guy who commandeered some car, even he came over to tell Bill that what he did was pretty incredible. I think that’s when Bill realized he’d done something pretty good. … He’s a very sensitive guy and a generous person. It was a lot for him to volunteer, but that’s the kind of guy he is.”
“There was feeling of exhilaration when he was in that room. It caused the Farrells to cry. It caused Bill to cry, and all the other recipients just flocked to him,” Magan said.
“They wanted me to pose with him, but I said, ‘No, this is Bill’s night. Everybody deserves their 15 minutes of fame and Bill is going to get his today.'”