COOBER PEDY News & Events


Desert Sea Collection - rare shells stolen from the Comfort Inn Motel in Coober Pedy

Desert Sea Collection – rare shells stolen from the Comfort Inn Motel in Coober Pedy

UPDATE: Wednesday 16 April 2014


Three men and two boys have been arrested following the recent theft of a large quantity of precious opal from the Comfort Inn Coober Pedy.

Following assistance from the local community, Coober Pedy Police arrested two youths after they allegedly attempted to sell some of the stolen opal in Coober Pedy on Sunday afternoon.

Further enquiries then lead police to search a number of premises resulting in the arrest of three Coober Pedy men. The men aged 28, 26 and 24-years, all from Coober Pedy, were all arrested and charged with aggravated serious criminal trespass and theft. Two of the men have remanded in custody to appear in the Port Augusta Magistrates Court on Thursday 24 April.

The two teenage boys aged 16 and 15 years also from Coober Pedy, were arrested and charged with dishonest dealings. They have been bailed to appear in court at a later date. Enquiries are continuing with nearly half of the stolen opal now recovered.

Debby Clee owner manager of the Comfort Inn Motel said, “Three or four of the original seashells are among those found so far – thank goodness!  It’s a box that the South Australian Museum put together in 2001. It’s worth about $80,000 and to have that returned reasonably intact is incredible.”

“The Museum had wanted to display it Adelaide, but of course it’s more important to keep it in Coober Pedy where it was found and where more people will see and appreciated it.”

“The Opal Room is open again, and so is the cafe, so everyone is welcome to come and have a look at one of Coober Pedy’s best kept secrets,” said Ms Clee.

“The security systems including cameras and computer surveillance are also up and running again”, she said.

PREVIOUSLY: Far North Police are investigating the theft of a large quantity of 120 million year-old opals during a break-in at Coober Pedy on Thursday night.

Between 8pm on Thursday 10 April and 6.30am the following morning, thieves broke into the Comfort Inn Experience Motel at Coober Pedy and stole opal jewellery and merchandise valued at around $400,000.

The stunning Desert Sea Collection (top left) was found during the excavation of the motel and is valued locally at about $280,000.

One of the opal and solid gold rings stolen by thieves

One of the opal and solid gold rings stolen by thieves

Owner Manager of the Comfort Inn Experience Motel Debby Clee said, “Other items that were stolen are solid opal gold pendants, solid opal rings, doublet and inlay gold rings and earrings.

If anyone  sees anything or is offered anything please let us or the police know, she said.”

Debby Clee believes that the opal theft was a ‘crime of opportunity’.

“Because guests have a security key to get in and out, I suspect that somebody didn’t close the door properly and it was opportune that someone else came past and saw the front door open. Once inside, the security cameras had been turned away to obscure vision”, said Debby.

“Heavy rains throughout the week meant that we were still cleaning up water and mud on Friday morning and because of this, the usual procedures weren’t being followed”.

Shells from the Clee family collection - now stolen

Shells from the Clee family collection – now stolen

“Rain had come into three of the guest rooms and flooded another part of the property giving us a great deal of unscheduled work to do. We had been stock-taking prior to the rains and wanted to get back to it.  I said, we’ll lock doors and the finish the stocktaking.”

“It was when we moved into the opal area that we noticed the missing jewellery. The cheaper items which had been taken first but as the thieves moved through towards the ‘Opal Room’, and saw the shinier, bigger gold items, they dropped the cheaper items.”

“The Opal Room where the valuable opal was actually stored was locked but the thieves broke through the door to get inside.  Unfortunately the collection hadn’t been put into the safe the previous night, but it was in a locked room.”

More opal and gold rings stolen from the Comfort Inn Motel

More opal and gold rings stolen from the Comfort Inn Motel

Debby said, “The thieves were on foot because we followed the trail of dropped price tags, through the Motel car park, through the Old Timer’s Mine car park next door and out behind Coober Pedy Village (the IMX mining camp), and that’s where we found all of the packaging and display trays”.

Traders in Coober Pedy are alarmed and disappointed by the robbery.  One local told the Coober Pedy Regional Times, “I love their Desert Sea Collection – its play of light and colour is incredible – I never get tired of looking at those shells”.

“The Desert Sea Collection is one of Coober Pedy’s many great treasures and the thieves have stolen something special, not just from the Clee family but from all of us and our future visitors,” he said.

A tray of opal shells stolen in the heist

A tray of opal shells stolen in the heist

Ben Manning Assistant Manager of the Comfort Inn said, “The thieves also stole the cash register, which is a dated cream-coloured  register with the old push down keys.”

Coober Pedy CIB detectives, Port Augusta Crime Scene examiners and Far North Police are conducting the ongoing investigation.

Anyone with information about the break-in or if who becomes aware of someone in possession of or trying to sell the opals is urged to contact local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. You can remain anonymous.