A rare, first-edition copy of one of the Mormon community’s most holy books has been missing for nearly a week, and its owner would like to have it back so it can complete its religious mission.
On Monday, Helen Schlie, owner of Downtown Mesa’s Rare and Out of Print Books and Art, located at 121 S. Mesa Drive, noticed that her first edition of the Book of Mormon from 1830 that was translated by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith himself, was missing from its usual spot — an unlocked bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in a back room of the shop.
Two young women who were on a mission trip came into the store that afternoon to have their picture taken with the book; hundreds of people from all over the world have, Schlie said, since she purchased it in the 1960s from a man who needed money.
But when she opened the bottom drawer of the metal filing cabinet she kept the book in, prepared to pull it out of its fire-proof case, it wasn’t there.
Mesa police detectives now are investigating the book’s disappearance, and on Thursday were inside the store that also is known for having one of the better collections of Horatio Algiers and Edgar Burroughs books.
The 588-page worn, brown leather book, which Smith translated from gold plates in New York, only represents one-third of the Book of Mormon, considered by those in the LDS church to be an equal to the Bible.
“It is extremely rare,” said Schlie, 88 — who said she was once was Mitt Romney’s Sunday School teacher at the LDS Church in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and whose shop is a short walk away from the Mormon Temple in Mesa.
“Someone knew what they were taking,” Schlie said. “The book is well enough known that anyone would know that it’s a collector’s item. Anyone who respected the Book of Mormon and valued it, knows there would be a tight market for it.”
Nothing else was missing from the store, Schlie said.
Schlie and Ken Hankins, her assistant in the 46-year-old crowded shop of shelves covered with stacks of books, said they last saw the book at 7 p.m. last Friday.
Schlie’s copy of the book is not only well known in the Mormon community, she said it is one of the most publicized copies around the world.
In 2005, Schlie was put in a controversial spotlight when she announced that she was going to start selling pages out of the book for $2,500 to $4,000 apiece to raise money to open an ice cream business. Proceeds from the business would go to young women and elders from the LDS church who needed funding for missionary trips, since the LDS church does not fund their missionary trips, she said. At first, Schlie’s actions of selling off the pages mounted and placed in wood frames were viewed as sacrilegious, but she said the LDS church later was OK with her project as church leaders considered it as something to strengthen one’s faith.
Since 2005, Schlie said that she has sold about 50 pages out of the book, and now has just one of the book’s pages left. It is mounted in a wooden frame, a page from Chapter 5.
“I got calls from all over the world from people seeking information about the book, from China and Yugoslavia,” Schlie said. “There’s no way to tell how many are left. It has folklore behind it. They’ve been passed down through the years, put away and in some cases, burned.”
A handful of customers who came in and out of Schlie’s shop on Thursday said that they hoped that someone would return the book and that it should have been in a safety deposit box.
Police say that the book likely was taken by someone who had access to it and knew where it was.
“I’d like to have it back ... so it could finish its mission,” Schlie said.
If anyone has information on the theft of the book, they can call (480) 644-2211.
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