A Man Walked Into a Bard One Day . . .
Thursday, July 17, 2008
WASHINGTON, England -- Raymond Scott sipped Dom Perignon from the jeweled (Swarovski crystals) champagne flute he carries with him in his briefcase. He was oddly jovial for a man just arrested on suspicion of stealing a prized 400-year-old volume of Shakespeare.
Scott, 51, who said he is innocent, described himself as an "amateur bibliophile" with a penchant for fine things, especially antiques, because "when you touch an antique, you seem to reach back through the centuries to the person who actually created it."
In an interview in his northeast England home town of Washington, he said he often travels away from his small brick home in a working-class cul-de-sac. He jets off to Monte Carlo, Paris, Havana. He visited the District for the first time last month and rather liked it -- at least until the FBI launched an international search for him.
As he explained, he excitedly left his suite at the Mayflower and walked into the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill on June 16. He was seeking help authenticating an old Shakespeare volume he had just taken out of Cuba in his hand luggage.
Travel restrictions forbid the Cuban owner to leave the island, so Scott said he offered to bring what was described by the Cuban owner as "a family heirloom" to the "epicenter" of scholarly work on Shakespeare, in the U.S. capital.
After Scott left the book at the Folger, an outside expert judged it to be a First Folio, a work stolen in 1998 from the University of Durham in a multimillion-dollar heist of some of the rarest books in the English language.
Scott said that though he lives 12 miles from the university, he has never been there.
"If I had been the person who had stolen this book, the last thing in the world I would do is to openly walk into the Folger Shakespeare Library, under my own name, showing them my passport -- the great center of Shakespeare learning -- and say, 'What have I got here?'
"It's like taking a revolver with six chambers, loading five chambers, spinning, putting it to your head and pulling the trigger. It just doesn't make sense," he said.
Scott, a tall, thin man, has never really had a job, but he said his mother (whom he referred to at one point as "Lady Bountiful") bankrolls his trips -- and his gold Versace ring, his diamond Rolex and a succession of exquisite cars: a Rolls-Royce, an Aston Martin, a Lamborghini, a silver Ferrari.
Speaking in a hotel with a plate of langoustines in front of him -- lobsters couldn't be found -- Scott said he remembered the moment he realized how much better the best was. He was 18, and he had slipped his feet into handmade Italian leather shoes.
He was in his garden last Thursday, pruning roses for his mother, when British police arrived to arrest him.