Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2008 Issue

Library-to-eBay Thief Caught

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

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.

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