AMERICAN OPTICAL

By: Jim Foley
January 25, 2000

The Great Gold Room Heist

In the early 1970’s when American Optical was still the world’s leading optical manufacturer employing about 5000 people in three shifts in Southbridge and 17,000 world wide, it was the custom to use a gold solution in the manufacture of its eyeglass frames. The dispensing of the gold was made from the Gold Room in the Frame Plant supervised by Carl Jowett, a much decorated World War II veteran. Jowett noticed a discrepancy in the weight of the gold that he was returning to the Providence, R.I., company that had contracted with AO to pick up scrap gold no longer useful in the manufacturing process. Jowett reported the discrepancy to his supervisor who, in turn, notified Security headed up by Carl Larson, a retired Colonel in the State Police. Larson, in turn, called the local police to assist in the investigation as there were several thousand dollars involved and it would be better to have an outside agency involved to insure objectivity. Deputy Chief Jim Laughnane was assigned to assist in the investigation. Larson then employed a relatively new product at that time of American Optical’s Fiber Optics Division. A long hose-like instrument with optical fibers that allows one to be in one location and observe what is taking place in another without being observed.

On the day of the arrest of the driver of the pickup, Larson, Laughnane and Jowett were all in an adjacent room and saw the driver stuffing his pickets with the surplus scrap gold that was supposed to be returned to the Company that had the contract with AO. The driver was immediately arrested and arraigned in the local court. After several continuances, he was fined a substantial amount and released.

The scuttlebutt, at the time, was the driver was in the employ of the Mafia and because he kept his mouth shut and refused to say who he was turning the surplus scrap gold over to, he was well taken care of by the Mafia.

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