Burglars loot museum on Capitol Hill; the heist is second of its kind in 6 months
In the second rare-book theft case in six months, thieves broke into the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Memorial Museum on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning and stole 12 early editions of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints scripture.
The books, all printed in the 19th century, are worth an estimated $300,000, said Ken Sanders, a rare-books collector in Salt Lake City. The thieves stole 11 Book of Mormon copies and one copy of the Doctrine and Covenants, Sanders said, as well as a Tibetan printing block.
One stolen copy was an 1852 edition printed in Italian and presented to LDS President John Taylor from Lorenzo Snow, who later became an LDS leader. Sanders estimated its value at $25,000 to $50,000.
The burglars broke a window and cut a window screen on the museum’s north side in the spot most out of view, said Lt. Tony Garcia of the Utah Bureau of Investigation. The glass case with the books and block was about 20 feet from the window. A burglar smashed the glass and took the loot.
“We’re led to believe the suspect knew what he was after,” Garcia said. “He went to that part of the museum and went to that display case with these specific books.”
Garcia said a suspect left a roofing hammer used to break the glass. Garcia thinks at least two people had to participate because someone inside the museum would have needed to hand the fragile books to someone outside.
“We really don’t think he would have thrown them on the ground without leaving some kind of evidence,” Garcia said.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers passing by saw the broken window about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Garcia said.
Garcia said a few witnesses saw a suspicious man circling the museum Tuesday afternoon. He was described as white, 5 feet 8 inches tall to 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a slender to medium build, sandy brown hair and wearing a brown and orange jacket.
The museum has sensors on several windows, but not on the one the burglars used, Garcia said.
Daughters of Utah Pioneers President Mary Johnson said the museum “had good security, but someone knew how to get around the security.”
Johnson said the museum has an alarm system that alerts Capitol security. She declined to say whether the case containing the books had an alarm. The museum is taking steps to improve its security, Johnson said, but she declined to elaborate.
“Thefts are always a little problem for museums, but we haven’t had much problems,” Johnson said.
Two Book of Mormon copies similar to ones stolen this week were taken from the LDS Salt Lake City University Institute of Religion on the University of Utah campus sometime between Oct. 24 and Nov. 8. Those items have not been recovered.
“I think a gang of thieves is targeting LDS institutions that they think, rightly so, has no security,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the value of LDS artifacts has increased in recent years as an affluent base of Mormon faithful have taken to collecting. And he said Internet sales sites and television programs such as “Antiques Roadshow” have increased public awareness of the artifacts’ worth.
Sanders said he warned a staff member at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum about three years ago that its books were vulnerable to theft.
Johnson said the museum hopes to recover the books and put them on display again. “These things are very important to us,” Johnson said. “That’s why we do it.”
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