Arrest made in burglary of Swiss Heritage Museum in Gruetli-Laager

T.J. James
photo Tommy J. James, 27, of Gruetli-Laager, Tenn., has been charged in the burglary of the Stoker-Stampfli Farm House Museum.

A Gruetli-Laager, Tenn., man has been charged in the Nov. 12 burglary of the Stoker-Stampfli Farm Museum in central Grundy County.

Sheriff Clint Shrum says 27-year-old Tommy J. James has been charged in the ongoing investigation. Some of the stolen items were recovered from James' home on Fletcher Road, the sheriff said.

Fletcher Road is less than four miles south of the historic museum property.

Shrum said he couldn't comment further on the case because the investigation is ongoing. The sheriff said more information will be released later when it is appropriate.

More than $6,600 worth of antiques and one-of-a-kind artifacts were taken from the house the weekend before last. Museum officials were heartbroken by the burglary that left the facility ransacked and nearly empty.

Grundy County Swiss Historical Society president Jackie Lawley said investigators found flags and caps that were unmistakable merchandise from the Swiss-oriented museum. Those items were sold during festivals and other events at the farm.

"I talked with [deputy] Josh King and took him a packet of pictures to identify things," Lawley said on Tuesday. She hopes the arrest leads to the recovery of more of the museum's missing items.

"I'm hoping the community cooperates," she said. "I think it's good we cooperate to make it a better place for us all to live and feel more secure."

Lawley said last Friday's Times Free Press story on the theft "was critical in getting this whole thing out to the public. It really made a difference."

Grundy County is home to many descendants of the Swiss families who began settling in the mountaintop community around 1869. About 100 families purchased property - about 100 acres each - in the Gruetli-Laager area, although it was known simply as Gruetli in those days.

An annual celebration held at the Stoker-Stampfli Farm and on surrounding grounds focuses on Swiss heritage and culture. The Swiss Celebration started more than 40 years ago after the Suter, Kunz, Bouldin, Stampfli and Baggenstoss families joined forces to organize an event to recognize the community's heritage.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or or or 423-757-6569.