SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Richard Pittenger was 16 years old and taking a girl out on a date when he walked out of a Utah restaurant in November 1977 to find the window of his truck smashed and his shotgun missing.
Decades later, the Salt Lake City man got the weapon back Wednesday after it turned up at a sporting goods store in Albany, Oregon, and a serial number search showed it was stolen.
Salt Lake City police Det. Rod Van Scoy said he wasn't sure how to track down the owner, but he dug through old reports kept on microfilm and found Pittenger's mother.
Now 53, Pittenger said he was a little nervous when he got a message from the detective a few weeks ago saying he wanted to talk. Though he's glad to have the gun back, he's not sure what he'll do with it.
"I don't know the history of it. I don't know if it was used to hurt someone over the years," he said. His father took him to buy the 20-gauge shotgun, and Pittenger used it to hunt rabbits with his friends.
He said seeing it again brings back memories of his teenage years, when he was learning to play rock music and performing with bands for the first time. Music has become a focus for him again, as he's spent the last six years composing a rock opera.
"I wish they could return my youth rather than just the gun," he said with a smile.
He bought a new gun to replace the stolen one. His hobbies eventually changed, and he didn't think of the gun much, but the break-in stuck with him.
"It's kind of traumatic for everyone, but when you're a really young kid even more so," he said.
Property crimes are notoriously difficult for police, who often have little evidence to start an investigation, Van Scoy said. If investigators do find stolen items, it usually happens soon after the crime_Pittenger's shotgun is the oldest recovered property case the detective could recall.
Though stolen items do turn up when police catch a thief, without a serial number it's hard to connect it back to an owner and officers often end up selling unclaimed items at auction.
"If you have a serial number, it might take 37 years, but we'll get your property back, hopefully," Van Scoy said.