699 5th Avenue South, Naples, FL
NAPLES — It started with a piece of artwork, stolen from the walls of the Inn on Fifth in 2001.
Then it was an antique desk, followed by more original paintings of meadows and ships. One by one the valuable pieces disappeared from the rear of the inn’s lobby.
“I’d walk in, and I’d see a piece of art gone, and I’d see a piece of furniture gone,” said Phil McCabe, the owner of the inn and McCabe’s Irish Pub & Grill.
Then, as quickly as it had all started, the thefts stopped.
McCabe refurnished the inn, took some additional security measures and moved on with life and business. Nine years passed, and although Naples police had security photos of the suspect stealing a painting in 2001 — an older man, possibly in his mid-60s — they were never able to identify him.
“It was over,” McCabe said. “Nothing ever happened again until this winter when it all started up all over again.”
But this time, due to the diligence of two inn employees, investigators had the description of a getaway vehicle — a white Toyota sport utility vehicle — and a license plate. Investigators were eventually able to trace the SUV back to an unlikely suspect, 75-year-old Roger Jay Gemmen, a wealthy, retired surgeon from Holland, Mich.
On Tuesday, Naples police arrested Gemmen on seven counts of grand theft. He was being held in the Collier County jail on a $17,500 bond.
It was on Feb. 16, that employees noticed a $500 wooden chair with a pineapple fabric design had been stolen from the lobby of the inn, according to a police report. Two days later, a matching chair disappeared.
A maintenance worker saw a man, later identified as Gemmen, loading the second chair into the back of a white SUV with Michigan plates, reports said.
In early March, McCabe said Gemmen came back to the inn. He left without taking anything, but was observed by another employee, who took down his tag number.
Working with Michigan authorities, Naples Detective Joseph Craig identified Gemmen as the owner of the vehicle. In addition to his home off of Lake Michigan, Craig also determined that Gemmen owns a home at 8032 Tiger Lily Drive in the Lely community of East Naples.
“He had the chairs set up in his dining room, and several of the items, the desk, the paintings, the chairs, were visible in his home from outside the front door,” Naples Police spokesman Michael Herman said.
Neighbors told Craig that Gemmen had already gone back to Michigan. Craig then got a search warrant.
Once inside, he and McCabe identified seven items which had been stolen from the inn from as far back as 2001: a $2,500 antique desk, the two wooden chairs, a $1,000 painting of sheep in a meadow, a $1,000 painting of Venice, a $1,500 painting of a horse and carriage, a $1,000 painting of ships, and a $500 painting of ships.
“When I was walking through his house, I was wondering, ‘Who does this other furniture belong to?’” McCabe said.
When Craig contacted Gemmen in Michigan to inform him of the search, Gemmen told him that he knew why police were at his home, but didn’t want to discuss it over the phone, reports said. On Tuesday, Gemmen arrived at the Naples police station for an interview, during which he confessed to stealing from the inn, reports said.
“This is not a case of greed. It is a misdirected act of anger against another person,” Gemmen told Craig, adding, “I’m not a very sophisticated criminal.”
There is no evidence Gemmen was angry at McCabe or any inn employees, Herman said. McCabe said he’s never met Gemmen.
“It just happened to be that the Inn on Fifth is where he conducted these crimes,” Herman said, “but his anger has nothing to do with the hotel or McCabe himself.”
Gemmen doesn’t appear to have a previous criminal history in either Collier County or in Ottawa County, Mich. No one answered the phone at either of Gemmen’s homes on Wednesday.
McCabe said he has no idea what Gemmen’s rationale for the thefts was, but said it couldn’t have been financial need. He also suspects that Gemmen may have stolen more.
“He claims that he doesn’t have (anything else),” McCabe said. “My guess is it’s up in Michigan, or on his boat, on his yacht.”
Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/