June 15, 2012

Rare Book of Mormon taken from unpopular little old lady not because of “divine retribution” but because of Mitt Romney-inspired “Mormonia”


Helen Schlie

The rare first edition of the Book of Mormon stolen from an antiquarian bookstore in suburban Phoenix, Arizona (see the earlier MobyLives report) has been recovered after having apparently been taken by a trusted friend of the store owner, according to a Washington Post report.

Capping a case that “spotlighted the market for ‘Mormonia’ — memorabilia about Mormonism — that has been thriving as Mitt Romney‘s presidential candidacy provokes interest,” the Post says “federal marshals barreled into an apartment in a Washington D.C. suburb and found the book in the possession of Jay Michael Linford, “a fellow Mormon bookseller who had been ‘like a grandson’ to the shop’s owner.” According to the report, “Linford, 48, had founded Experience Press in Palmyra, N.Y., a business intended to serve the growing number of tourists interested in Mormonism’s birthplace. The company produced handmade books that were meant to look like the originals and that sold for $100 to $1,000.”

For owner Helen Spencer Schlie, 88, who says she was once Mitt Romney’s Sunday school teacher …

the accused was a business partner and one of her closest friends, who chatted with her by phone for hours each week and helped her publish a book of her poetry.

“My other grandchildren haven’t had much interest in my projects, and here’s this young man who is a contemporary with my older grandchildren, but he has made things happen,” Schlie said Wednesday, her voice quivering.

But as we noted in our earlier report on the theft, Schlie has been criticized for having been selling off individual pages of the book — the scared text of Mormonism — for anywhere from $2,500 to $4,500. As the Post report notes,

… the theft didn’t elicit much sympathy for the Mesa, Ariz., widow, who had become something of a pariah for removing individual pages from the book and offering them for sale.

“Divine intervention,” a prominent Salt Lake City bookseller said about the theft.

Ken Sanders, who has overseen security for the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, said, “It’s incomprehensible how someone could use their religion to mask what is, to me, just out-and-out greed. “

Others who knew Schlie were not surprised that the book was stolen. One former employee of Schlie’s store tells the Post the book “was never in a safe place. The first thing she’d tell someone when she met them is where she kept the book.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.