The instrument, an 1879 Eugenio Praga violin valued at $50,000, was recovered after the suspect tried to sell it to a dealer in Ontario who happened to be friends with the rightful owner.
Billings deputy chief of police Joe Bryce told the AP that detectives, operating on a tip from the dealer, posed as potential buyers and met with the man in Billings; he handed over the instrument and was not immediately arrested, but an investigation continues and charges are likely.
Bay Area resident Evan Price, the violin's owner, plays with the Turtle Island String Quartet, which had given a concert in Billings in April. He told the AP, "There was a lot of luck at play here. The dealer that this guy got in touch with in Canada is an old friend of mine. I bought a different violin from him 20 years ago and we've stayed in touch. He knew right away that the violin this guy had was mine."
Price left the instrument on the curb at the airport while the quartet loaded their car. The loss wasn't noticed until they stopped for lunch.
Price has already purchased another instrument with insurance money.