Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2008 Issue

Library-to-eBay Thief Caught

Montanasilver

Brubaker, alias montanasilver, had 100% positive feedback from his unknowing eBay customers.


By Michael Stillman

One of the more egregious cases of library theft/eBay selling came to a close in late June when James Brubaker of Great Falls, Montana, pled guilty to charges of possession and interstate transportation of stolen property. The 74-year-old Brubaker is scheduled to be sentenced on September 15 and could receive as many as ten years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine. Still unclear is the fate of Brubaker's wife Caroline who was charged with assisting her husband in selling the stolen items in May.

Brubaker's scheme began to unravel in early 2006 when Julie Fitzgerald, a librarian working in the government documents area of the Western Washington University Library, noticed a suspicious man looking over some books. After he left, Ms. Fitzgerald did some searching through the shelves and found many books had been retuned out of order. More ominously, she discovered many of the books were missing sections or pages. She reported what she found to librarian Robert Lopresti, who, in a fortuitous coincidence, also happens to be a mystery writer. They set about tracking down the thief.

Now where would you look for stolen items that are of reasonable, but not enormous value? You don't have to be a great sleuth to figure eBay is the place. They began searching for items missing from the library's collection, and found such items being offered by eBay seller "montanasilver." According to documents filed by the prosecution in court, montanasilver claimed the books were part of a "personal collection that had been put together for over 50 years." True enough, it's just that he wasn't the one who put the collection together.

The librarian-sleuths next decided to bid on items they believed to have been stolen from Western Washington. Lopresti had friends from the east coast place the orders so the Montana based eBay seller would not become suspicious. What they received from montanaseller matched the missing items from the library. Meanwhile, a search of university police records disclosed that Brubaker, alias "montanasilver," had received a parking ticket at a lot near the library on the date in question. However, in an article written on his Criminal Brief website, Lopresti reported that the small value of the items made it hard to seriously interest law enforcement. Still, the librarians suspected that it was likely the thief had visited other libraries as well. Eventually, they discovered that several governmental agencies had investigated Brubaker in the past, but never had enough evidence to charge him with anything. Now they had sufficient grounds to issue a search warrant of Brubaker's home.

What the police found when they searched Brubaker's house went far beyond the walls of the Western Washington Library. This is why this is such a large case. The charges state that of the approximately 1,000 books the police found in Brubaker's house, 832 were believed to have been stolen. Of these, 750 had library markings on them. There are believed to have been as many as 109 separate victim libraries, 51 of them so far confirmed. Victimized libraries have been identified in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Twelve libraries in Montana have been identified, along with another three from Alberta, Canada.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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