A researcher pocketed hundreds of WWII dog tags from the National Archives and sold them

Abbie Bennett
May 07, 2019 - 9:39 am

Courtesy of the National Archives.


A Maryland researcher spent years pocketing dog tags, personal letters and pieces of downed aircraft from World War II soldiers that had been left in the care of the National Archives. 

Antonin DeHays took the items while visiting the Archives from 2012-17 and sold most of them on eBay or directly to buyers, pocketing more than $43,000 in the process, according to a redacted criminal investigation report released by the National Archives Office of the Inspector General to Connecting Vets through a Freedom of Information Act request.

He reportedly even traded a valuable set of dog tags for the chance to sit in a Spitfire plane.

The National Archives first learned of the thefts on Nov. 8, 2016, the report said. Investigators were told another researcher visited the archives and reported the identification card and metal dog tags for World War II airman Thomas Christian were missing.

A World War II historian and researcher from College Park, Md., DeHays, 33, had frequently requested the file containing those same items throughout 2015, investigators found. 

The investigation would later reveal that for years, DeHays “stole and sold approximately 291 WWII-era U.S. service member dog tags and 136 related artifacts, including military ID cards, personal letters from family, photographs, a Bible, handwritten intelligence reports and runner messages and pieces downed of aircraft from the archives."

Courtesy of the National Archives.

When the Archives discovered the artifacts and records of at least two WWII airmen were missing, it launched an investigation, beginning by removing all of the other records and artifacts to a secure location.

In May 2017, DeHays requested several files and an archivist checked them to be sure all of the dog tags were in the file. When DeHays returned the box 24 minutes later, about 330 dog tags were missing, the report said. Before that incident, DeHays had requested other files, including the file for Tuskegee Airman Leonard R. Willette, whose dog tags turned up missing later.

Photos of Willette’s and other missing dog tags began showing up alongside online articles that month.

A month later, law enforcement executed a search warrant at DeHays’ home, where they recovered several National Archives records along with evidence indicating he had sold dog tags and other records to third parties, the report said.

The same day law enforcement found the stolen items in DeHays’ home, he was arrested for theft of public property and has since plead guilty. DeHays also was permanently banned from Archives facilities.

He was sentenced to 364 days in prison, three years of supervised probation – with the first eight months under house arrest – 100 hours of community service and was ordered to pay back the money he made from selling the artifacts.

Following the search and arrest, the Archives began contacting the people who purchased the stolen records and artifacts and asking that they are returned. While some have made their way back to the Archives more artifacts are still missing.  

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