Crime

Lamb of God Guitar Thief Gets Prison, but 'Warbird' Is Still Missing

Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe performs at Ak-Chin Pavilion on Thursday, May 2, 2019.
Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe performs at Ak-Chin Pavilion on Thursday, May 2, 2019. Jim Louvau
The infamous 2019 Lamb of God guitar heist from Ak-Chin Pavilion has resulted in prison time for one crook, but only one of the metal band's instruments has been recovered.

Fans will recall that Lamb of God lost two one-of-a-kind guitars from the Phoenix concert venue on May 2, 2019, the day they were scheduled to open for Slayer along with Amon Amarth and Cannibal Corpse. Sometime in the early morning hours, thieves crept into a truck trailer on a loading dock near the stage and made off with guitarist Willie Adler's black-and-gold "Warbird" and a hand-painted ESP bass guitar.

The show went on, but Adler complained bitterly about the venue's security on Instagram. A few days later, someone put the bass up for sale on OfferUp.com. Phoenix cops soon announced the arrest of three men: Michael Blakeslee, William Widener, and Justin Petersen, who were charged with second-degree trafficking in stolen property. One of the suspects had also "attempted to pawn one of the guitars, but was turned away," police said at the time

That was the last the public heard about the case. But on Monday, Phoenix police released the investigative report on the crime to Phoenix New Times in response to a request under state public records law made two years ago. It shows, among other things, that the ESP bass was turned in on May 28, 2019. The Warbird's whereabouts remain unknown.

The report contains additional detail about the theft and how cops caught up to the men who tried to fence the instruments, which were valued at $11,000 apiece. Though they each confessed to trying to sell a guitar, all three men denied stealing the guitars initially from Ak-Chin Pavilion.

click to enlarge The two missing Lamb of God guitars. - PHOENIX POLICE
The two missing Lamb of God guitars.
Phoenix police
On the morning of the theft, the trailer with the musical equipment was sitting at the dock just north of the stage, unlocked, where it had been since the day before. The driver noticed when he got up from a "nap" in his truck at 3:30 a.m. that the trailer doors were open and some equipment was sitting outside unsecured. Kate McMartin of Live Nation Entertainment, which owns the pavilion, later showed police a surveillance video of a single suspect carrying two guitar cases and walking toward the exit of the north parking lot. She also told police that she'd heard the Warbird had been put on OfferUp, and someone had also tried to sell it at Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Mesa.

Bookmans had received a tip to look out for the stolen guitars, the report states. The store manager was prepared when, two days after the theft, the three men came into the store and tried to sell the Warbird.

Widener brought the guitar to a counter, with Petersen at his side explaining that the guitar was his and that it wasn't the stolen Lamb of God guitar — it just looked exactly like it. The manager said it was worth at least $6,000, but the men said they'd take $350 for it. The manager took down the information on Widener's driver's license but declined to buy the guitar, making Petersen "upset." Blakeslee "joined up with them inside the store" before they left.

Both the manager and a store clerk later identified Widener and Petersen in a photo lineup. And store surveillance video showed the two men were dropped off at Bookmans in a silver BMW, which turned out to be Blakeslee's car.

click to enlarge Michael Blakeslee's latest prison mugshot - ADOC
Michael Blakeslee's latest prison mugshot
ADOC
On May 8, 2019, police busted Widener and Blakeslee at an apartment they shared. Widener claimed he was just trying to sell the guitar for Petersen and didn't know it was stolen. Blakeslee, a habitual criminal who has served about 20 total years in prison since 1986 for theft, drug sales, and other crimes, "admitted to believing the guitar to possibly being stolen" and that he had driven the other two men to Bookmans to sell it, the report says.

Petersen, who was homeless, was arrested the next day with some methamphetamine on him. Police had already used a search warrant to discover that Petersen was the one who put the guitar on OfferUp.

Petersen told police that he had been at the other two men's apartment when Blakeslee came home "all excited about a guitar he had gotten ... and that his buddy had gotten it from a concert." At Blakeslee's urging, Petersen created an OfferUp account and tried to sell the guitar, Petersen told police, adding that he received "angry" messages from people about the ad. Petersen claimed that Blakeslee admitted to stealing the guitar at Ak-Chin Pavilion. After the failed attempt to sell it at Bookmans, Petersen said the guitar was left with Blakeslee.

"According to Justin, the guitar was never sold on OfferUp, but Michael Blakeslee used the inner parts of the stolen guitar to put into this own personal guitar," the report states. 

However, although Petersen claimed he watched Blakeslee "take the guitar apart" and put its components in a Jackson guitar, police later recovered the Jackson and found that it contained its own parts — it hadn't been tampered with.

As the men began their journey in the court system, on May 28, 2019, Lamb of God manager Brad Fuhrman of 5B notified Phoenix police that the stolen ESP bass had been recovered. Fuhrman said that a person with a Phoenix business, which he did not name, told him that an unknown woman had dropped off the bass "with no questions asked." The business contacted Fuhrman, who arranged to have it shipped to him in Los Angeles.

Petersen and Widener each pleaded guilty last year and received three years' probation in their cases. Blakeslee's case appeared headed to trial until he pleaded guilty in February of this year. On March 22, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Cohen sentenced Blakeslee to 2.5 years in prison.

Adler and Fuhrman didn't return messages for this article.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern