An auction worker holds up a Romarm AK-47 semi-automatic weapon during a gun auction at Earl's Auction Company in Indianapolis on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013.
(Photo: Jill Disis, The Indianapolis Star)
INDIANAPOLIS (Indianapolis Star) -- The man in the red shirt picked up the black semi-automatic rifle from the table behind him and held it out for the anxious crowd to see.
"We'll start the bidding at $500!" shouted the auctioneer standing nearby.
The price quickly escalated. Within moments, it eclipsed $1,000.
"$1,100!" the auctioneer called out.
A minute later, the bidding was over. The gun sold for $1,850, and a crew member wearing a red hoodie whisked it off the floor and into a back room.
The AK-47 was among the first of at least 370 guns auctioned off Sunday morning at Earl's Auction Co. in Indianapolis. The event, billed as an opportunity to see and bid on a "world class" collection of weaponry valued at $1 million, attracted as many as 1,500 people and was expected to last well into the night.
Though the energy was high, the auction came at a gruesome cost: the 1,400 items once belonged to Gary Roberts, who was fatally shot by his wife, Elizabeth, in September. According to court documents, the Greenfield, Ind., man threatened to kill police officers who were on their way to the couple's home to investigate his arsenal of weapons and explosives stored in the couple's basement.
While Elizabeth Roberts was cleared of any charges - after being detained for a week - police say she killed herself Nov. 2.
"It's a sad deal," said Earl Cornwell, the auction house president, said Sunday. "Hopefully, today it will be better for the family.
"We can make it better and easier on the family to get rid of all this."
Many in attendance were serious gun enthusiasts clamoring to see a collection valued at $1 million - and perhaps pick up a piece of it for themselves.
Others arrived for the spectacle. Among the advertised items in the inventory were antique pistols, World War II-era machine guns, Rambo knives and high-powered sniper rifles.
Though the Robertses were married for 31 years, their relationship began to deteriorate in recent months. Court documents indicated Gary Roberts was an abuser of alcohol and prescription drugs and had made comments about wanting to end it all.
Cornwell said the rest of the couple's estate was auctioned off a few weeks ago. The weapons collection was saved for last.
"This is a lot of responsibility," said Cornwell, who estimated that in addition to the guns, more than a million rounds of ammunition were up for auction. "This has made my eyes bloodshot and taken years off my life, just being in control of all this ammunition and the guns."
Cornwell said in addition to a number of modern firearms, Gary Roberts possessed a slew of rarities.
One of the most valuable items, a machine gun manufactured in 1917 that was used during World War II, went for about $18,000.
Earlier in the day, a bidder bought an antique Johnson 1941 rifle for $3,700. It was one of 18 Roberts owned.
"He collected a lot of things that I know I like," said Al Patty, 65, who came from Hebron for the auction. He walked away with an M10 submachine gun purchased for $4,100.
Patty said that while the incident involving Gary and Elizabeth Roberts was unfortunate, to him the large and unique collection was reassuring, not alarming.
"I don't think he was in any criminal activity," Patty said. "He wouldn't be if he owned all this.
"To have the paperwork done for these weapons, you've got to be pretty clean."
David Hunseckur, 55, Whiteland, said he found out about the auction Sunday morning from a television news report. He stopped by with his wife and snagged a box of .50-caliber ammunition.
"My brother-in-law has a .50-caliber rifle, and the price was right," Hunseckur said, adding that he planned to use the rounds for target practice.
"It's sad circumstances, how this auction came about," Hunseckur said. "It was an opportunity for us, and we took advantage of it."
Cornwell said money from Sunday's proceedings will go to the family's estate.
Every person at the auction who bought a firearm was required to submit to a background check.
Contributing: Star reporter Kristine Guerra