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War games

A miniature felony

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Played with hand-painted miniatures and measuring tape, Warhammer is a game of substantial craft. That's why Muse Comics owner Jason Benner still cracks up each time he finds bits of broken glass leftover from the bizarre November burglary of his shop.

Of course, Benner wasn't laughing when he first came upon a shattered front door one Saturday morning. The shop's alarm was blaring—not because the crime was fresh, but because a glitchy phone line failed to relay the message to the security firm when the break-in occurred hours earlier. Benner figured burglars must have made off with the boxes of merchandise he had stacked at the front of the shop"My entire board game section," he says—in preparation for the local sci-fi convention, MisCon.

But the boxes were still there. So was the $200 cash that spilled from one of boxes, apparently knocked over by accident. The register was untouched.

"I walked in and the cop's right behind me," Benner says. "As soon as I round the counter corner there, I see my whole entire Warhammer 40K miniature wall is on the floor.

"That's when I looked at the cop and was like, 'I have a very good idea who probably did this,'" he says.

Warhammer is a tabletop strategy game where players battle by moving miniature pieces they've assembled and painted from kits. Warhammer 40,000 is the popular science fiction version where a dozen races of humans and aliens fight for control of the universe. Missing from Benner's shop was $657.25 worth of these kits, everything from Space Marines to Necrons to the evil fey humanoids known as Dark Eldars.

When Benner saw the display in disarray, he thought of the prior night, when two young "gentlemen," as he calls them, were acting odd during a Magic: The Gathering card tournament. The pair Benner suspected of stealing the merchandise both visited the Warhammer display during tournament breaks "and repeatedly removed items while glancing toward the ceiling," he told investigators.

"It doesn't take a master detective to figure out" what happened, Benner says.

Especially with Katie O'Keefe's Casino as a neighbor at the time, he adds. Benner's shop didn't have security cameras at its former Stephens Avenue location, but surveillance footage pulled from the casino showed two men walking toward Muse at 3:19 a.m. and then running in the opposite direction 13 minutes later as they appeared to clutch items under their coats.

The Missoula County Attorney's Office has charged Nathan Charvat and Jackson Wiles for the burglary, a felony. An arraignment hearing for Wiles is scheduled for April 21 in Missoula County District Court. A warrant for Charvat's arrest is outstanding after he missed an initial appearance in Missoula County Justice Court.

The burglars "pretty much 'smash-and-grabbed' us," Benner says while helping customers at Muse's new location on South Higgins. "They smashed my window, crawled underneath the hand bar to get in, pushed over all the boxes I had by the front door full of product, beelined straight to the things they wanted, grabbed whatever they could get because it was dark, stuffed it in their coats and then bolted."

Benner himself has been playing Warhammer, one of his favorite games, for 20 years. He can't think of any reason the assailants would go to such lengths to get the kits, other than to build and play with them. "A felony to bolster their miniature game," he says.

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