A rare, first-edition of the Book of Mormon that was helping to provide funds for missionary work before going missing last month will soon resume its own mission following the arrest of the man police say took the book with plans to sell it page by page.
On Wednesday, Helen Schlie, owner of Rare and Out of Print Books and Art, located at 121 S. Mesa Drive in Mesa, was fielding dozens of phone calls from media and relieved friends after she received word the day before that law enforcement officials recovered the rare copy – first published in 1830 – that belonged to her.
Schlie, 88, reported the book stolen on May 28 after she discovered it was missing from the its usual place — inside a fireproof case in the unlocked bottom drawer of a metal filing cabinet in her shop.
The man authorities say took the book was someone Schlie knew and trusted. He was her publisher, and a member himself of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints himself, Schlie said.
Jay Linford, 48, of Palmyra, N.Y., was arrested on Tuesday outside an apartment building in Herndon, Va., on suspicion of theft and trafficking in stolen property, according to Mesa police.
With the case receiving national attention, Mesa police were assisted by the FBI’s Art Crime Unit, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, along with numerous other law enforcement agencies.
Linford, who is being held in the Fairfax County Detention Facility on a $40,000 cash bond awaiting extradition to Arizona, was inside Schlie’s shop the day the book was discovered missing, according to Mesa police. That same day, Linford had contacted a book dealer in the Dallas area inquiring about his interest in purchasing pages out of the book. Linford ultimately sold two pages out of the two of the book to the dealer for $7,500, police said.
“Sad,” Schlie said on Wednesday after arriving at her 46-year-old shop.
“I like publicity, but not like this,” Schlie said. “I’ve had mixed emotions; I didn’t want it this way. Anything I wanted done, Jay would do it for me. He always was right there. We could talk about things and he could make it happen.”
After authorities executed a search warrant, the book was recovered inside an apartment in the Washington, D.C., suburb belonging to an acquaintance of Linford. At this time, it does not appear the acquaintance who lived at the apartment was involved in the theft, police said.
Schlie, who said she was once Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s Sunday School teacher in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said the recovery of the book has been bittersweet. She said she suspected who might have taken it, but couldn’t say anything as detectives worked the case.
Ever since she purchased the book in the 1960s from a man who needed money, numerous people have visited her shop just to have their picture taken with it because of its religious importance.
Linford, who reportedly was having financial problems and recently remarried, owns Experience Press in Palmyra, N.Y. In 2006, he published one of Schlie’s poetry books, titled “And So It Begins.”
The attention first came when Schlie decided to start selling off individual pages for $2,500 to $4,000 apiece to help raise money for LDS church elders who needed funds for missionary trips.
Linford had once videotaped Schlie with the book in 2005. The video was a part of a series recorded by Linford with about a dozen other people who owned a first edition of the book — considered a sacred religious document and LDS church members consider it an equal to the Bible.
The 588-page, worn, brown leather book is believed by LDS faithful to be translated from gold plates in New York by church founder Joseph Smith. There were about 5,000 copies of the first edition of the book printed, but it is not known how many of them have survived.
Although experts say Schlie’s copy of the book is valued at about $40,000, Schlie said that a dealer in Salt Lake City, Utah, had appraised its value at $100,000 a few years ago.
Once the book is returned to her in the days ahead, where will Schlie keep it?
Likely in her Mesa store, like she always has.
“This was an isolated incident,” Schlie said. “A lot of people have respect for the book because of its reverence and I would hope that it would stay that way. I’m grateful it was found. The police detectives did a great job.”
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