Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2014 Issue

Thief Now Cooperating to Return 7,000 Stolen Artifacts

061a3ab0-c3cc-4516-b6ee-e8e80bb5a1ae

Tillman.

When the Parole Board sat down to consider daytime release for John Mark Tillman, of Fall River, Nova Scotia, Canada, they had a long record to consider. It was early May of 2010, and by then, Tillman had been charged with a dozen crimes over an almost 30-year period. However, Tillman was also a university graduate, and a charming man, who appeared remorseful and sincere in his attempt at rehabilitation. His crimes tended to be petty – minor thefts, a forged check, buying and selling merchandise he suspected was stolen. Despite the history of recidivism, the Board felt he was (finally) a good candidate for turning his life around.

 

The bigger concern with Tillman was his temper and violence. That finally caught up with him in 2009 when he smacked his girlfriend in the head, and threatened her with much greater bodily harm, such as smashing her face to powder. This was the crime that landed him in prison. Tillman explained to the police that he was just trying to get her to repay a debt. He “convinced” her to drive to an ATM where she withdrew some money and gave it to him. Tillman had followed her in his BMW (yes, a BMW). Tillman never earned more than poverty wages, yet was still driving a BMW, among his many possessions, which makes one wonder why he needed a relatively small amount of money from a girlfriend so badly.

 

Mr. Tillman was pending trial at the time for threatening to kill his own mother. A sister also said he had threatened her. The charge was dropped when his mother supposedly recanted the claim shortly before she died (of natural causes). Still, he obviously had a problem.

 

Nevertheless, the Board saw good progress for Mr. Tillman in prison with anger management. They were more focused on this part of his behavior than the 30 years of petty thefts. While saying “it acknowledges your history which is inclusive of violence,” the Board said he had demonstrated his ability to use the skills in anger management he learned in prison, and therefore “you are assessed as a low risk to reoffend… the Board is satisfied you do not present an undue risk to public safety.” The Board concluded, “Furthermore, your release at this point will facilitate your reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen.”

 

Tillman was less than a rehabilitated citizen. The new girlfriend who awaited his release in 2010 later became afraid of him. Charges of assaulting her were later initiated. In 2012, he was placed on probation for using a forged check to repair his BMW.  It was a violation of the terms of this later probation, being out in his car at an hour not permitted, that finally led to Tillman’s downfall. A local officer, recognizing him, pulled him over. She conducted a search of his car. In it, she found a letter written by British General James Wolfe in 1758. Wolfe is known for leading forces against the French during the Siege of Louisbourg. What on earth was this violent, petty thief doing with an historic document in his car? The police did a little investigating. They found it was missing from Dalhousie University. So they determined it was time to do a search of Tillman’s residence.

 

What they discovered looked more like a museum than a residence. They found what they estimated at the time to be 1,300 historic artifacts. Later counts ran that number to 7,000. They included books, such as a first edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species, manuscripts such as a letter from George Washington, as well as other antiques, including a suit of armor. They came from libraries, museums, dealers, and private collections. What they didn’t find were any bills of sale. Tillman clearly had notreintegrated himself into society as a law-abiding citizen. He was a thief on a scale that no one had imagined.

 

Tillman also had a few non-antiquarian possessions. Along with the BMW he had a Porsche. He purchased his home, valued at over $400,000, with cash. He also had $350,000 in the bank. Evidently, he sold a lot of items, despite still having some 7,000 artifacts valued at $1 million-plus in his possession. There were also some non-antiquarian stolen goods around, like an outboard motor stolen from a boy scout camp and a family heirloom chair taken from a 102-year-old man.

 

When Tillman appeared in court in 2013 there was little sympathy left for the man. He pled guilty to 40 charges, claiming the terrible conditions of prison awaiting trial made him see the light (something his earlier stint behind bars did not accomplish). The Judge was not impressed. Noting that Tillman had shown no remorse, nor any respect for his fellow citizens or the justice system, the Judge sentenced him to 9 years in prison.

 

Of course, this left officers with the enormous task of finding to whom these 7,000 artifacts belonged. That doesn’t even include tracking down those Tillman had already sold. They sent out notices to numerous institutions and others, both in Canada and the United States, asking what they were missing. Reportedly, some 2,000 items have been reunited with their owners, but that leaves 70% of them “homeless.” The Wolfe letter is an example of the problem. Dalhousie University has an enormous collection of artifacts, but few people to take care of them. The letter had been stolen several years earlier, but the university had no idea it was missing. Just a few weeks ago, that letter, the Washington letter (written during the Revolution seeking help spying from a Nova Scotia resident), a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, and 600 more items were returned to Dalhousie. Tillman had agreed to forfeit all of the artifacts, his house, cars and cash as part of his original plea.

 

So now we hear that Mr. Tillman is cooperating with police. He is said to be attempting to remember from where the various items he took came. His memory will have to be good to recall this for 5,000 of them, but he should at least remember most of the places he hit. In an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, he indicated it was all too easy. He claimed he used an attractive Russian girlfriend and even his mother at times to distract managers at stores and institutions while he secreted away the goods. He said he learned this skill from his grandmother. Tillman possesses an engaging personality that makes people like him, deflecting suspicion. At other times, he dressed up as a janitor or painter at an institution to avoid suspicion. Considering the enormous number of artifacts stolen without once getting caught, his skills were obviously quite good. Indeed, it was only a car search coming from a traffic stop for violating a condition of parole from an unrelated crime that brought him down.

 

Of course, Mr. Tillman will be getting out sometime near the end of the decade. Perhaps he hopes his cooperation will make that date sooner. He will be around 60-years-old at that time, undoubtedly still possessed of an engaging personality, but this time reformed. This time will be different. Of course it will. Just ask him.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions