Butterfly Theft Scandal Unravels: Ex-Skier’s Search for Rare Specimens Spans Continents and Museums

Sydney, Australia – In the late 1940s, a chain of bizarre events unfolded involving stolen rare butterflies, a former champion skier, and a crumbling marriage. Ex-champion skier Colin Wyatt, amid suspicions of his wife’s infidelity, turned to an unusual coping mechanism – stealing rare Australian butterflies.

The unusual heist began when over 800 rare Australian butterfly specimens went missing from the George Lyell collection at Melbourne Museum in early 1947. The disappearance of these valuable specimens sparked alarm across museums in Australia, with Adelaide Museum and Sydney Museum also reporting missing butterfly specimens in the hundreds and thousands.

Wyatt’s peculiar escapade led authorities on an international search, eventually tracing the stolen butterflies to a house in Farnham, England. The culprit behind the heist turned out to be none other than the once-prominent skier turned entomologist, Colin Wyatt.

A complex character, Wyatt had a fascinating life story that included representing Britain in the 1931 World Ski Championships, learning multiple languages, and marrying Mary Barrett in Australia – all before his bizarre foray into butterfly theft. His lawyer would later describe him as a “shy and delicate child” who found solace in collecting butterflies from a young age.

Wyatt’s motivation for the butterfly heist stemmed from personal turmoil, as his marriage deteriorated, prompting a return to his childhood hobby of collecting butterflies. His lawyer revealed that Wyatt believed his wife’s actions had contributed to the breakdown of their marriage, and collecting butterflies became a therapeutic outlet for his emotional distress.

The butterfly heist not only involved the physical theft of specimens but also the tampering of labels on rare specimens, leading to a significant reclassification effort by entomologists from Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne. Wyatt’s actions caused confusion and chaos in the entomological world, with the full extent of the damage taking years to unravel.

Despite the legal repercussions and fines Wyatt faced for his actions, his passion for collecting butterflies endured throughout his life. He went on to write books and articles on travel and other topics, leaving a complex legacy that intertwined fascination with butterflies and personal turmoil. Wyatt’s story serves as a reminder of how personal struggles can manifest in unexpected and unusual ways, leaving a lasting impact on both the individual and the community.