Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) ó A nurse found a 320-year-old cello made by master craftsman Antonio Stradivari lying by a trash bin ó and almost had her boyfriend convert it into a CD holder, police said.
The $3.5 million instrument was returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association on Monday after sitting unrecognized for days in the home of Melanie Stevens, 29, who found it on her way to visit a patient.
Stevens discovered the cello about a mile from where it was stolen, still inside its silver-coated plastic case.
Stevens asked her boyfriend, a cabinetmaker, to either repair the instrument or convert it into a unique CD holder, police Detective Donald Hrycyk said Tuesday. She said she didn't know its significance until she noticed a news report May 7.
"It's an incredible miracle that somebody actually found it and returned it. Can you imagine it going into a garbage truck?" said the Philharmonic's associate principal cellist, Daniel Rothmuller, who played the instrument for more than 25 years.
Its return was a relief for Philharmonic principal cellist Peter Stumpf, who accidentally left it outside his home. Nearby video surveillance cameras showed a bicyclist stole it April 25.
"It's been an enormous weight on me for the last three weeks," Stumpf said. "I'm just incredibly relieved that it's solved."
However, detectives are still looking for the thief and have not ruled out any suspects. They plan an investigation before deciding whether to give Stevens the $50,000 reward offered by an anonymous donor, Hrycyk said.
The prospect the prized instrument could have been turned into a CD holder "is so abominable. I get sick when I hear it," said Robert Cauer, a Los Angeles-based expert instrument restorer.
The 1684 cello was one of only about 60 made by Stradivari in his Cremona, Italy, workshop. The Philharmonic Association bought it about three decades ago.
The cello ó nicknamed the "General Kyd" for the man who brought it to England from Italy near the end of the 18th century ó is cracked on the front, back and upper rib, but there is no crack in the critical rear soundpost, Cauer said. He said the cello should be ready to play by October.

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