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Reports: Slain bookseller Sherry Black unknowingly bought stolen items from gang member with history of threats

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 8 2010 10:09 p.m. MST

SOUTH SALT LAKE — The fatal stabbing of bookseller Sherry Black was part of a particularly brutal attack, police said Wednesday as they continue to investigate her Nov. 30 death.

Authorities have completed an autopsy of Black, 64, the mother-in-law of Larry H. Miller Group CEO Greg Miller, said South Salt Lake police spokesman Gary Keller.

"She was physically beaten and stabbed more than once," Keller said. "Her wounds did cause a considerable amount of blood loss at the crime scene."

Black was killed in the shop she ran with her husband, B&W Billiards and Books, 3466 S. 700 East. Keller said police still have no motive and no suspects.

The Deseret News has learned about a transaction in which Black purchased rare, stolen LDS books from a Juggalo gang member with a history of making threats. The incident occurred in February of 2009.

Lorin Nielsen, 20, was arrested and charged with stealing books from the Bluffdale home of his father, who is a polygamous church president. Nielsen pleaded guilty in April 2009 to theft, a third-degree felony, and theft by deception, a second-degree felony. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Nielsen was booked into Salt Lake County Jail on Monday for a violation of his probation in the theft case. Detectives, however, would not say whether he is being investigated in connection with the homicide.

In March 2009, Nielsen's father told detectives he had noticed some rare LDS books missing from his home library, according to police reports. He reviewed security camera footage and saw his son removing the books on Feb. 20, when he had been at the home for a funeral. The home also functions as a church meeting place.

When the father showed the video to his son, Nielsen admitted taking the books and said he sold them at Black's B&W Billiards and Books store, police reports state. Nielsen warned his father "if he got police involved he will set off a chain of events he's not going to like because he is a member of a gang," the report states.

Police say the son was affiliated with an Insane Clown Posse, or Juggalos gang. The father was afraid of his son because of the gang association and his history of carrying weapons, the reports state.

The father's wife told detectives a man doing construction work at the house had seen Nielsen and his half-brother in and around the library. When the family searched Lorin Nielsen's car, he became upset and "threatened serious harm" to his father and the family, police reports said.

Black told police she paid Nielsen $20,000 for 14 rare LDS books. Nielsen had apparently sold books to her before and had even bought back one or two, police reports state.

She sold one — a first-edition French Book of Mormon signed by John Taylor with a message to Parley P. Pratt — to Lyndon Cook, a Provo book dealer, for $10,000. Cook told police he made a presentation box for the book and sold it to a wealthy, out-of-state buyer who often gives the books he purchases to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sources confirmed to the Deseret News that the out-of-state buyer paid Cook between $30,000 and $35,000 for it.

An LDS Church archivist told police he had not seen the book.

The other books included a second-edition Book of Mormon, an 1884 Doctrine and Covenants, an 1857 compendium, a book called "History of Illinois" and eight volumes of The Millennial Star. Black estimated the collection was worth $45,000. Detectives told her not to sell the books or she could face criminal charges.

Police talked to book dealer Curt Bench, an authority on Mormon books, who said Nielsen had tried to sell the books to him, but he was suspicious and refused. Bench confirmed the $45,000 estimate to police.

About three weeks after the burglary, detectives caught up with Nielsen driving in Taylorsville. Police arrested him for burglary and cited a passenger who first claimed to be Nielsen.

Nielsen reportedly said to police, "This must be about my dad's books. I thought he wasn't going to call you guys. I thought I had it worked out with him." He refused to answer questions, except to admit he was a member of the Kearns Town ICP gang, and was booked into jail.

Scott Young, the owner of Eborn Books, was a friend of Black. He said she told him about the incident involving Nielsen and the stolen books.

"Once she got a list of things that were possibly stolen, she just quickly returned what was on the list," he said. "She was mortified that something like that would happen to her. None of us ever want a situation like that."

Young described Black as an honest businesswoman who worked hard to understand the industry and treated people fairly.

"She cared about people, she cared about the books," he said.

Contributing: Jennifer Stagg

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com TWITTER: DNewsCrimeTeam

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