Rare Book theft stories rarely end quickly but this one was in and out in one day. Some smart police work and a not too smart thief brought it to a quick conclusion. The books, which the bookstore owner estimated as valued at $55,000, were quickly returned where they belong.
On Thursday, February 9, Russell Books of Victoria, on the southern end of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, discovered locked cases had been broken and books were missing. Police were contacted and Russell Books posted on their Facebook page, “Hello Friends. We had some unwelcome guests last night who broke into our store and helped themselves to over $55,000 worth of antiquarian books. If you have any information or see our books out on your travels please notify the Victoria police. An investigation is ongoing.” The investigation did not have to go on for long.
Officers interviewed the store owners and others in the community and checked out surveillance camera videos. It enabled them to determine that the same person had attempted to break in to some multi-family housing and left behind some of the books. Those books were later gathered up by a resident and turned over to police. Using the information and video footage, they were able to identify a suspect who was arrested. He was still in possession of $22,000 worth of the books. The suspect already had three outstanding arrest warrants for possession of stolen property, mischief under $5,000, and breaking and entering. By that evening, he had been placed in custody.
The following day, the bookseller was able to post on their website, “After what must have been a frightening day, Walt Whitman and some of his friends from the 1600s spent the night recuperating at our house. Thank you everyone for the positive thoughts.”
The individual books were valued at $400-$10,000. There was still something there that doesn't make much sense. News reports described one as a signed first edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. For $10,000? If so, unless it were in even worse than deplorable condition, the thief should have just purchased it. It would have been as good as stealing. That sounds like a six-digit item.