Stolen rare documents returned to Vt. library

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September 14, 2012, 6:19 am
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Librarian Jeff Marshall hopes to never again lose sight of what he was carrying through the University of Vermont Special Collections Dept. Thursday.

"It's great to have them back," Marshall said, placing a box of documents on a research table.

His department just got back more than 50 documents bearing signatures including several belonging to United States Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The F.D.R. signature was on White House letterhead.

"Because the writers were famous, [the documents] have some value," Marshall said.

A brazen thief strolled into the lower level of the Bailey / Howe Library last year and walked off with the letters. Federal prosecutors said the crook was Barry Landau, whom they described as a con man masquerading as a presidential researcher and historian. Landau pled guilty and was sentenced in June to seven years in prison for plundering a string of libraries and archives along the East Coast. Investigators said Landau planned to sell the autographs to collectors.

Items taken from other institutions included writings of Benjamin Franklin, Marie Antoinette, and George Washington, investigators said. Many of the objects Landau admitted to stealing could be described as priceless, they noted, but some estimates put the take at $2.5-million.

"There probably is a black market," Marshall said.

UVM Sophomore Rob Liu was glad to know the evidence used by the FBI was returned to Vermont. He said the whole campus was victimized, because those papers were supposed to belong to everyone, not just kept away in a private collection.

"These are really important documents," Liu said. "This affects all of us because these are important documents for all of us as a society."

The case changed policy at the library. Now, research using rare documents has to take place out in the open, and you can't bring your backpack or coats into where the papers are stored.

"We've certainly learned to be more vigilant," Marshall added.

Marshall said the library expects to receive even more missing papers soon, as federal officials continue processing Landau's stash of stolen cultural treasures.

Tags: University of Vermont, UVM, Burlington Vermont, thief, Jack Thurston, barry landau, jeff marshall, special collections department, bailey/howe library, rob liu
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