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>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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