$1 Million of Stolen Books Recovered
A copy of the first edition of the Book of Mormon
by Michael Stillman
Mormon books are among the most collectible religious texts in the world. If you don't believe it, this point was reinforced by the ultimate of tests recently -- thieves breaking into libraries to steal them. Fortunately, these stories have happy endings, at least for all involved except the crooks. A recent theft from the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum was solved in short order, while one from last fall was resolved around the same time, though it appears the two were unrelated and their resolutions coming at the same time a coincidence.
Late at night on April 11, someone broke into the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum and lifted thirteen old books. Among them were a couple of 1830, first editions of the Book of Mormon printed in Palmyra, New York. Copies of this book have sold for as high as $60,000 at auction recently (Christie's in 2005). All told, the stolen books and other items could be worth as much as $1 million. Presumably, the thief was aware that these books are valued not only by the faithful, but collectors as well.
A few days later, a young woman walked into Eborn Books in West Valley City, Utah, outside of Salt Lake, and offered owner Bret Eborn two first editions. Eborn wrote out a couple of checks totaling $11,000, and figured he'd made himself a heck of a deal. However, when he returned home that night, he heard from his wife about the theft at the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum, and reportedly checked the ABAA site, where he learned that what he had purchased had been stolen. Eborn made some late night phone calls to the police, providing the driver's license number and address of his customer. A stakeout ensued, and one Robert Lindsay was placed under arrest. Eleven of the missing books were immediately recovered, and reportedly, Lindsay confessed.
The solving of the earlier theft took a little more luck. Last fall, several valuable works were heisted from the Institute of Religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the University of Utah. This one had authorities stumped. At first, they thought Lindsay might have been involved in this theft too, but there was no evidence of a connection. Then, a routine search warrant of a home suspected of housing a methamphetamine lab led to a surprising cache of missing books. While searching through the rafters of the garage, officers came upon the old books. It was a complete surprise. A little research turned up the news that these were books stolen from the Institute of Religion. Also found in the search were drugs, drug paraphernalia, and some old newspapers. Arrested was one Shawn K. Jones, who probably has some explaining to do.
$1 Million of Stolen Books Recovered
What can we take from these ominous, though thankfully happy-ending stories? Here are a few thoughts:
(1). Libraries still need to do more to improve their security.
(2). The ABAA's stolen book notice program is working.
(3). Do not hide your stolen merchandise in a drug lab. You will only double your trouble when caught.
(4). If someone offers you $100,000 worth of books for $11,000, it may not be the wonderful deal it at first appears.
(5). Crime does not pay.
We are happy these Mormon texts are now back where they belong, but suspect that we have not heard the last story of this kind.
Editor's Note: Bookstore owner Bret Eborn, who purchased two items, clarifies some issues in this article, including that an exaggerated value for the pieces was initially reported. These books were not quite as valuable on a collecting basis as originally believed. His response can be found in the Letters to the Editor dated 10/11/2006. Click here.