MESA, Ariz. — Last May, a first-edition Book of Mormon was stolen from Helen Schlie, an 89-year-old bookstore owner from Mesa, Ariz. After months of investigation, police recovered all of the loose pages that were sold in addition to the book, returning it to Schlie on Jan. 15.
Schlie and her late husband originally acquired the book in the 1960s, purchasing it from a descendent of R.W. Young, a lawyer from Salt Lake City who had owned the book and passed it down the family line.
“The last written entry in the book was from 1910 when Mrs. R.W. Young had given it away, and we’ve had it for over 40 years,” Schlie said.
Schlie discovered the book was missing on Memorial Day when she went to retrieve it for two sister missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who came to see the book.
Jay Michael Linford pleaded guilty to theft Jan. 10 and will be sentenced Feb. 12, according to the Arizona Republic.
“He had already made arrangements to sell the title page, which is the most valuable page in the book,” Schlie said.
The two had been trusted friends for years.
“He has helped me so much the last six years. Anything I needed, he would make happen,” Schlie said. “He published a beautiful hand-printed, hand-stitched book of my poetry and arranged to have a paperback edition done.”
Some of the pages were in the possession of Reid Moon, a rare book dealer in Dallas. When Moon read the newspaper and learned the pages had been stolen, he called the FBI. The book was traced to Washington, D.C., and with the help of the police in Arizona and Texas, federal agents in Washington, D.C., finally located it.
Schlie received news that the stolen Book of Mormon had been found last summer. However, the FBI held onto it for further evidence until recently.
“They told me I’d be able to receive it again, but I didn’t know when,” Schlie said. “They told me because of legal aspects it could (be) two years before I could have it back and I thought, ‘I’m 89 years old — I can’t wait too long.’”
After nearly nine months of separation, Schlie was finally reunited with the beloved and rare book.
“The whole staff did wonderful,” Schlie said. “They had to transfer some of them (pages) to Dallas and to Washington, D.C., and that included many of the local officers. I had to go to the police station and pick (the book) up and all the Mesa officers were there to have their picture taken with it.”
It has been a long-time tradition for area Latter-day Saints to venture to the bookstore and hold the first-edition copy in their hands and snap a picture.
“We’ve never had it under glass or touched with white gloves. We’ve had whole families come and take pictures with the book,” Schlie said. “Not too long ago a young couple came with a brand new baby boy just home from the hospital. They laid his little hand on the Book of Mormon, took a picture and said, ‘Now he can take that with him on his mission.’”
The rarity only adds to Schlie’s sentimentality for the book. It remains a reminder of her conversion to the LDS Church years ago.
“I was a grandmother before I even heard about the church,” Schlie said. “I always figured if God was the God over the whole Earth there must be other records besides the Bible.”
Schlie is a former choir director for her church and had the opportunity to come to Salt Lake City to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir years ago. When she heard the choir rehearse, she asked if they had any other materials that made them different from other churches.
“That’s when I first heard of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price,” Schlie said. “I believed that was the answer I had been looking for and that God had revealed his word to other people.”
Although the Book of Mormon was stolen, Schlie still plans to extend her generosity of sharing the book with the public.
“I absolutely will have people come and see it,” Schlie said. “When people want to come and see it, they can come and hold it and feel the spirit of it. I have an 1829 Bible, too, so when people come to take pictures, I let them hold the Book of Mormon in one hand and the Bible in the other so they have the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph in their hands.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company