It was incorrectly reported Tuesday in Style that German rare- book dealer Heribert Tenschert received a commission for the return of the Quedlinburg "Samuhel" gospel to a German foundation last spring. The $125,000 paid to him by the foundation was reimbursement for a fee he paid to a Texas lawyer to inspect a second Quedlinburg manuscript, also later returned with no profit to him. (Published 1/10/91)
By the terms of a $1 million settlement hammered out yesterday in a London hotel room, the medieval treasures from the Lutheran church of Quedlinburg, Germany, will soon be back where they belong.
Stolen from their hiding place in a mine shaft outside Quedlinburg by American army officer Joe T. Meador at the close of World War II, the hoard of manuscripts and reliquaries was rediscovered last summer in the possession of Meador's heirs, brother Jack Meador and sister Jane Meador Cook, both of Texas. Meador died of cancer in 1980.
Despite a lawsuit filed by the church last June demanding return of the objects, the Meador heirs, until yesterday, had steadfastly refused to do so without being paid a large cash settlement. Their most recent demand, in September, was for $2.5 million, or less if the Germans would agree to help pay the family's legal expenses.
They have now settled for $1 million, but in the bargain were given assurances that the German government would ask the U.S. government, through appropriate channels, to either terminate or show leniency in two ongoing investigations into the Meadors' dealings in this matter. The FBI has conducted a far-flung criminal investigation into possible violations of the U.S. National Stolen Property Act, which makes illegal the transportation of stolen goods over state lines, and the Internal Revenue Service has been investigating whether the Meador family has an estate tax liability, since no estate tax was paid.
The $1 million is in addition to $1.85 million already paid to the Meadors or their agents for two Quedlinburg manuscripts, returned last spring. Both books had clearly crossed several state and international boundaries as they made their way through a web of dealers and middlemen -- including the Meadors' lawyer at the time, John Torigian. The quasi-governmental German Foundation of the States, which was set up to reclaim lost cultural property, last spring agreed to pay a "finder's fee" of $3 million for the most important book, a rare Carolingian book of gospels, known as the Samuhel, but because of the ongoing investigations and attendant publicity only $1.85 million was ever paid.
A second, less valuable manuscript was returned to the foundation by a Swiss middleman last fall, ostensibly without even a "finder's fee," the euphemism coined by foundation director Klaus Maurice so as not to establish the precedent of paying for the return of stolen cultural property. To Maurice's embarrassment, it was later revealed in the German press that fees had been not only paid, but hidden, including $50,000 to the "mysterious Swiss middleman" (who turned out to be a dealer) and $125,000 to German dealer Heribert Tenschert, who had proclaimed to the world that he'd returned the book to Germany for love, not money.
According to sources close to the case who would not speak for attribution, the final settlement -- proposed by Maurice -- came about both because Maurice wanted to stop further embarrassing publicity about his methods in Germany and, on the family's part, because evidence was already being presented to a Dallas grand jury and an indictment was feared.
A dozen interested parties were present at yesterday's all-day meeting in London, including the Meadors and their spouses; the minister of the Quedlinburg church, the Bishop of Sachsen-Anhalt; Klaus Maurice; and a contingent of lawyers from Washington, Dallas and Berlin. There were also two representatives from the German Interior Ministry in Bonn. It has just assumed responsibility for the case, which had been a stepchild of the Foreign Ministry until the recent reunification of Germany (Quedlinburg was in East Germany).
According to Washington attorney Thomas R. Kline of Andrews & Kurth, who represents the church, "An agreement has been reached between the Quedlinburg church and Jack Meador and Jane Meador Cook. The exact details will be worked out between the lawyers within the next two weeks, but the outline is that the pieces will be returned to the church after a short exhibition of the eight pieces now being held in the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, probably in late February or March. Everyone is pleased with the result."
Everyone but Willi Korte, the German researcher and expert in stolen art who tracked down the Quedlinburg treasure in a bank vault in Whitewright, Tex., last June, and was taken off the case in October after repeated disagreements with Maurice over procedure. Working with authorization from the church, which he knew could not pay him, and the encouragement of the German Foreign Ministry, Korte had pursued the case for a year in Texas, New York, Washington, London, Paris, Munich and Berlin, running up expenses of $100,000, only $7,000 of which has been reimbursed by the German government.
"If this is how the case ends," said Korte, who wanted the investigation to proceed because some items are still missing, "I'm glad to be out of it. The checkbook solution sends a terrible message for any other cases, and as we know, there will be many more cases. It would have been easier to put an ad in the American newspapers and say, 'We encourage American veterans and family members to call us on a toll-free number. Anonymity is guaranteed. Top prices paid.' "
Korte did receive some thanks, though it won't help much with the "major hole" in his bank account: "I got a nice booklet from the church, and a letter from the minister saying I'd be remembered in history."