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ALBANY, N.Y., April 12 (UPI) — Five baseballs, signed by five different presidents that were stolen 29 years ago from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., were returned Thursday after a three-year investigation by the FBI.

“You couldn’t pay enough for these baseballs, they’re priceless,” said Dale Petroskey, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “They’re a part of America’s treasure chest.”

The return of the five baseballs, four Thursday and one in 1999 as a result of the FBI investigation, completes the collection of having a baseball signed by every U.S. president from William Howard Taft to George W. Bush at the Cooperstown museum.

However, the FBI struck out in finding who originally stole the baseballs despite a grand jury investigation.

“Because of the passage of time and the lack of forensic evidence no charges will be filed,” said FBI Special Agent Michael Bassett, who led the investigation. “We can’t make a criminal case.” Bassett traced the baseballs, signed by Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover through auction houses. Those who had purchased the baseballs had done so legally but voluntarily returned them when they learned they had been stolen. “People with collections are focused on authenticity not on whether the merchandise is stolen,” said FBI Special Agent Louie Allen. “The collectors, who will not be identified, gave up the baseballs willingly.” The investigation was sparked by the grandson of a former major leaguer who made the collection and later gave it to the Hall of Fame’s museum. The grandson saw one of the baseballs being sold in an auction magazine and contacted the FBI.

That baseball, signed by President William E. Harding, was retrieved by the FBI in 1999. The grandson later saw two more baseballs for sale in auction catalogs and the investigation continued.

Pitching great “Big Train” Johnson, started the collection in 1910 when he had Taft sign the baseball after the first-ever ceremonial pitch made by a president.

“The baseballs are priceless but they will never be sold,” said Petroskey. “The museum now has state-of-the-art security so the theft could never happen today.”

The presidential baseball collection will go on display next month at the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. in upstate New York.

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