Jay Michael Linford, a fellow Mormon bookseller who had been “like a grandson” to the shop’s owner, was arrested at his friend’s apartment and charged with theft and trafficking in stolen property.
The theft and arrest spotlighted the market for “Mormonia” — memorabilia about Mormonism — that has been thriving as Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy, television shows and a Broadway play have stoked interest in the faith.
The news last month that Helen Spencer Schlie’s first edition had been stolen spread quickly through the small, tightknit world of rare-book dealers, who were aware of Schlie’s book as one of 5,000 original 1830 copies of the Book of Mormon, which is viewed by Mormons as sacred text.
But 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. ”
To Schlie, the theft turned out to be heartbreaking for more than monetary reasons. 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, 88, said Wednesday, her voice quivering.
Schlie and Linford were both steeped in the growing business subculture of Mormonia.
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.
Linford and Schlie also worked together on video interviews with people who owned some of the prized first editions of the Book of Mormon. The videos were intended to be sold as mini-documentaries to buyers of the books.
Schlie, a convert to Mormonism, attracted sharp criticism a few years ago when she started removing pages from the first edition that her husband acquired in 1967. “Some people were disturbed I’d taken a perfectly good book apart, but each page in its lifetime is capable of touching hundreds of thousands of lives,” she said.
There were plenty of takers for the pages — priced at $2,500 to $4,500 — including some affluent Mormons.
Mormonism teaches that the text is God’s word, which was written on gold plates, buried in Upstate New York (before there was a New York) and found by a prophet named Joseph Smith, who translated them into English.