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It is a crime to knowingly possess stolen property.
This would apply to the original thief, and to anyone that obtained it knowing it was stolen.

A stolen vehicle can be legally recovered, or taken back and returned to the rightful owner, without compensation.
It doesn't matter whether the current 'owner' knew it was stolen.

If it is recovered and the 20k reward is paid, then the rightful owner effectively bought it back for 20k.
 

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he "Original Thief" can not be charged for a theft that happened 52 years ago.
I did not mean to suggest the original thief can be charged for stealing the vehicle when that happened so long ago.
But the statute of limitations also applies to possessing a stolen vehicle, if the thief had recent enough possession.
And Washington state law implies you don't even have to know it's stolen.
From Motor Vehicle Theft Crimes in Washington State | Burg Theft Defense
  • Possession of a Stolen Vehicle (9A.56.068):
    A person commits possession of a stolen motor vehicle by possessing a stolen vehicle regardless of the value of the vehicle.
    Possession of a Stolen Vehicle is a class B felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine. Actual penalties for a Washington theft crime, however, are determined by the Sentencing Reform Act, RCW 9.94A and the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines.
Sounds fair, You are wrong
Perhaps I am wrong, but I'm not sure specifically what you are referring to.

If the current 'owner' didn't know it was stolen, I doubt he'd be prosecuted criminally, despite the statute -- especially in the current prosecutorial climate.
A civil action could force the vehicle to be turned over to the owner when it was stolen.

This is probably all moot, as I agree finding the vehicle at this late date would be extremely unlikely.
 
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