Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2014 Issue

Thief Now Cooperating to Return 7,000 Stolen Artifacts

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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>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, <i>El Ingenioso Hildalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha . . . Nueva Edición,</i> first Ibarra edition, Madrid, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Prayer Book in Latin and French, France, 1530-40s. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b><br><i>Die Ernsthaffte Christenpflicht,</i> earliest known edition of the first complete Mennonite prayer book, 1708. $300 to $500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Georg Agricola, <i>De ortu & causis subterraneorum Lib V.,</i> first edition, Basel, 1546. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Frederick Ruysch, <i>Icon durae matris in concava [convexa] superficie visae,</i> with 2 mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, first edition, Amsterdam, 1737. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, <i>Eine Neue Art von Strahlen,</i> Würzburg, 1895. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pietro Carrera, <i>Il Gioco de gli Scacchi,</i> first edition, Militello, 1617. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> William Lithgow, <i>The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures</i> [etc.], London, 1632. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Michel de Nostradamus, <i>The True Prophecies or Prognostications,</i> first complete edition in English, London, 1672. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pseudo-Methodius, <i>De revelatione facta . . . beato Methodio,</i> Basel, 1504. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Hrabanus Maurus, <i>De laudibus sancte crucis opus,</i> Pforzheim, 1503. $1,000 to $2,000.
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Franklin, Benjamin. <i>The Independent Whig.</i> First Magazine Published in America, Philadelphia: Keimer, 1723-4. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000

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