WEST VALLEY CITY Police have arrested a man in connection with the heist of rare books and medals from the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum in a caper that targeted early Mormon history. Investigators said Friday they believe they're close to rounding up all the suspects in the theft of artifacts with estimated worth in excess of $1 million.
Items were taken in two separate incidents.
Spread out on Lt. Tony Garcia's desk at the Department of Public Safety Friday were marked evidence bags filled with rare early-Western medals and 11 copies of early Mormon scripture.
"This is it. This is the history. This is the beginning," he said. "Two (volumes) are missing, but I have a good idea we'll recover them soon."
Rare bookseller Bret Eborn, owner of Eborn Books in Valley Fair Mall, tipped off police early Friday morning after buying a couple of the stolen books. A woman approached his bookshop Thursday with two rare copies of the Book of Mormon.
"She either played dumb or was dumb," Eborn said, because the woman appeared not to know she had a first edition Book of Mormon in her hand. It would be worth about $20,000 to a collector but for the two books, Eborn paid her $11,000 with two checks.
When Eborn got home to Roy, his wife asked if he had heard about the stolen books. Checking the Web site of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, he realized he had purchased stolen books.
By the time he contacted Garcia, it was 1:30 a.m., and he apologized for the early hour.
"You can call me any time with information like that," Garcia told him.
"I'm glad it turned out the way it did," Eborn said Friday. "I was just fortunate they didn't have time to cash that first check."
On Thursday, police recovered a group of medals that were stolen from the museum two and a half weeks ago. They turned up at an antique store in downtown Salt Lake City, Garcia said. A photo lineup led police to a possible suspect, whom they tracked down at a Magna home Friday afternoon.
The valuable books were taken from the DUP museum late Tuesday or early Wednesday, investigators said.
Robert Lindsay, 48, was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on investigation of theft and possession of stolen property. Police believe he and the woman were involved in fencing the purloined books.
Eborn said he had dealt with Lindsay before and even had his driver's license on file. Most of the time, Lindsay and the woman came in with books they found at garage sales or at thrift stores, but they had never brought in anything valuable, he said.
Investigators told the Deseret Morning News that they believe as many as four people may have participated in the theft.
"They would have had to have gone through that museum on a few occasions to see what books they wanted to target," Garcia said. "They would have gone to the museum just prior to the burglary to make sure the books were still in place. Because they targeted only one showcase."
At about 1 a.m. Wednesday, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper patrolling Capitol Hill noticed a cut screen and broken window at the museum. Inside, a glass case where rare books were stored was smashed.
Police said 13 books were stolen, including rare copies of the Book of Mormon. Two were first-edition copies, published in 1830, the same year Joseph Smith founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many other books of lesser value were left behind, investigators told the Deseret Morning News.
This is not the first time this batch of books has been stolen. Garcia investigated the thefts of the same books in 1993. Then, 115 items were stolen from the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum, including medals and early Mormon scriptures. They were all eventually recovered. Rare booksellers were put on alert to watch out for anyone trying to sell the sacred texts, which are valued at anywhere from $800,000 to $1 million.
"Money is always the motivation behind these types of heists," Garcia said.
"It's ironic I'd be doing this 13 years later," Garcia said.
"Unfortunately, I think the security (at the DUP museum) is lacking," bookseller Ken Sanders told the Deseret Morning News Thursday. He urged the Daughters of Utah Pioneers to invest in an updated security system complete with alarms and cameras.
Telephone calls to the DUP were not returned Friday.
The International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers was founded in 1901 to preserve the state's history. According to their website, the group seeks "to encompass a broad scope of services, ranging from the preservation of historic landmarks to the education of thousands of school children and other citizens about the pioneer forebears."
Thefts of vintage Books of Mormon are on the increase, according to rare booksellers. Sanders called them the "Holy Grail of Mormon book collecting" whose values are skyrocketing among collectors.Some thefts still have not been solved. In November 2005, two copies of the Book of Mormon, published in 1840 and 1841, were stolen from the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah. In February, a copy of the Book of Mormon dating back to 1840 was stolen from the Beehive House, one of state founder and second LDS Church president Brigham Young's family homes a block from Temple Square.
E-mail: [email protected]