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May 15, 2014 12:00 AM by Lupita Murillo

Stolen gun found more than 35 years later

TUCSON - "No matter how long ago you lost something, never stop looking for it." Advice a retired Arizona Department of Public Safety Lieutenant Bill Breen shared.

In 1977, he was a Cochise County sheriff's deputy living in Bisbee with his wife and baby daughter.

His house along with many others was burglarized, "My heart sank, it was a devastating feeling."

Devastating because among the many items taken was his revolver he carried as a Cochise Co. Sheriff's deputy, his grandfather's Colt 45, who was also in law enforcement, and his great-great-grandfather's Remington Navy 36 Cap and Ball revolver built during the Civil War.

Breen and other deputies followed the tracks that were left behind by the burglar, ultimately they were led into Mexico.

An informant told Breen, "The chief of police across the line was buying the stolen property."

Breen identified the bugler as Hoton Camacho Bernal nicknamed "Mariposa" because of a butterfly tattoo on his chest. That's how Customs Agent Lee Morgan identified him.

Bernal was found guilty of over 35 counts of burglary and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Breen went on to work for the Arizona Department Of Public Safety in various assignments. "Whenever I would come across a gun of those makes and models I would always look." But he also admits, the chances of finding his family heirlooms were probably nil.

Until a few weeks ago when he took his investigative skills to the internet and typed in the serial number to his great-great-grandfather's gun. He says, "I almost fell out of my chair."

On his computer screen, a picture of his the gun. "I remember the chip in the handle, and I'm looking at the serial numbers and the serial numbers matched it was like looking at a lottery ticket and the winning numbers."

The gun had traveled extensively after leaving Naco, Sonora, in 1977. He knows it went to Mississippi, and ended up in Tennessee where he bought it online from Shiloh Relics from Laurie and Rafael Eledge. "Mr. Eledge is a regular on the antiques road show. He's an expert in civil war memorabilia and antique weapons."

The gun is back in Arizona, and back into the family of Jeremiah McCarthy. Breen says his great great grandfather came to the United States from Ireland in the mid 1800's. He landed in New York and after the Civil War he and other members of the family took a wagon train to Colorado and carried the gun with him. The McCarthy's started a new life in Fort Garland.

Lt. Breen says he learned a valuable lesson; never assume something is lost forever.

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