Montana Man Arrested for WWU Map Thefts
Two years ago, I reported that a number of government documents in a Western Washington University library had been vandalized; at least 648 maps and coloured plates had been torn from at least 108 volumes in the United States Congressional Serial Set. Last month, they arrested the man who, authorities believe, did it.
James L. Brubaker, 73, of Great Falls, Montana, was charged on March 27 with interstate transportation of stolen goods in federal court. The charges relate to the items stolen from WWU, but authorities, executing a search warrant on Brubaker’s home last December, found 1,000 books taken from at least 100 libraries across the country, along with 20,000 single pages torn from books. Brubaker was apparently selling them on eBay under the name “montanasilver”; according to records found during the search, he completed 9,000 eBay transactions in 2007, grossing nearly $500,000.
eBay proved to be Brubaker’s downfall. WWU librarian Robert Lopresti had begun an investigation after the thefts; among other things, he set up a number of searches on eBay that would e-mail him if something was offered for sale that matched certain keywords. Within a month, Brubaker was receiving more matches than the rest of eBay combined. The next step was to buy two maps from Brubaker to see if they matched the books they were stolen from: for that, Lopresti recruited two associates elsewhere in the country. The maps matched, and the investigation continued from there.
Lots of coverage on this subject, from which the foregoing has been derived:
- Book thief’s trail leads to Electric City (Great Falls Tribune, March 27, 2008)
- Man charged with stealing library’s historic documents (Great Falls Tribune, March 28, 2008)
- Montana man facing federal charge in theft of WA library books (Associated Press/Seattle Times, March 28, 2008)
- Pay Dirt in Montana (Smithsonian, April 2008)
- Washington Librarian Helps Nab Montana Library Thief (American Libraries, April 1, 2008)
But above all else, don’t miss Lopresti’s own account of the theft, his investigation, and his struggle to find a law enforcement agency willing to do something about it. One problem was that the individual items were only $30 or so — small potatoes in comparison with the items that Forbes Smiley stole. Brubaker — who has been charged, but not convicted — apparently made it up on volume.
Previously: WWU Collection Vandalized.