Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2017 Issue

"Despicable" Book Thief Sentenced to Two Years in Jail, But the Book is Still Missing

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The missing logbook (from Metropolitan Police).

The judge described the book theft as a "despicable offense" in sentencing the thief to two years in prison earlier this year. Stealing the personal memento of her war-hero husband from a 93-year-old widow is about as low as they come. The despicableness of Alexander Bateman is compounded by his unwillingness even now to reveal what he did with Royal Air Force pilot Sgt. John Fraser's logbook. As a result, the family is now offering a £5,000 (US $6,500) reward for its return.

 

John Fraser was a member of Squadron 617 of the RAF in 1943. Today, they are better known as the "Dambusters." On May 16, 1943, they set out on a most dangerous mission. Their job was to blow up three dams in Germany's Ruhr valley. It was at the heart of Germany's industrial production. British military leaders figured they could cut down production by depriving the factories of water and electricity provided by the hydroelectric plants. They could also create damages and wreak havoc by spilling the large volumes of water behind the dams.

 

The task was far more difficult and dangerous than it sounds. They had to escape radar detection, which meant flying at a dangerously low altitude. They were skimming along barely 100 feet above the ground carrying their payloads of bombs. Some were downed by simply clipping power lines. Those that reached their destination would have to target their bombs perfectly. To work, the bombs had to strike the dams below the water line. However, the Germans had protective netting below the surface designed to stop torpedoes. So, the bombs would have to be timed perfectly to skim the water surface and then be pulled underwater along the dam's edge by their reverse spin. A fuse would then set off the explosion.

 

As if this weren't difficult enough, the pilots faced foggy weather. Locating the right dams was not easy. Then, they had to fly all the way back across Germany and along the coast of the Netherlands to return safely.

 

The mission was for the most part successful, two of the three targets being seriously damaged. The wall of water and subsequent flooding killed 1,600 people, more than half of them captive laborers. It took many months to fully restore production. Almost 40% of the airmen who participated died in the raid. Sgt. Fraser was not one of them. He survived the mission, but died many years ago.

 

In 1996, his widow, Doris, was contacted by Alexander Bateman. Bateman described himself as a historian who wanted to borrow Sgt. Fraser's logbook for research. Doris Fraser thought this was an opportunity to help preserve her husband's memory and complied with Bateman's request.

 

Mrs. Fraser trusted Bateman with the book for a long time, but eventually her daughter, Shere Lowe, asked to have it returned. In 2003, Bateman sent her a letter which was slit open at the bottom. He claimed the post office lost the logbook. Later, he said the post office returned it to him. Next, he claimed the logbook had been given to him by Fraser's widow. He produced a Christmas card saying "please keep the log book," but on examination, it was determined the writing had been forged. Finally, Bateman claimed that the logbook was taken in a burglary. Indeed it was, but it was Bateman who was the thief.

 

Bateman is now in jail, but Mrs. Fraser and Ms. Lowe are still without the logbook. Ms. Lowe has now offered the £5,000 reward for its return. While it is a valuable item, that reward may be worth almost as much as the book itself. It is the sentimental value of what she describes as a "piece" of her father that matters so much. She noted that she lost a father and her mother lost a husband at a young age. "This is not a document," she said, "it’s not a piece of paper, it’s a piece of my father’s legacy of courage."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <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: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
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