“The History of the Irish Wolfdog,” published in 1897, is so rare, it’s worth $4,500.
“The Compleat Gentleman,” a book from two centuries earlier and written in Early Modern English, could fetch $4,000.
And with a value of $400, “Mickey Mouse in King Arthur’s Court” commands its price because it’s a pop-up book — from 1933.
All the books remain missing. All are part of an unusual theft case aired in Montgomery County District Court on Tuesday. Christina Wimmel, 31, pleaded guilty to theft and admitted stealing more than $30,000 in rare books from her neighbor in Bethesda — a woman she knew well enough that the two walked their dogs together.
“This case is about two things,” prosecutor Curtis Zeager said. “A valuable, cultural collection that is in the wind, and a friendship that was taken advantage of.”
Since being charged earlier this year, Wimmel has returned some books, but she still owes collector-dealer Julia Jordan either additional stolen books, $22,310, or some combination. During Tuesday’s court hearing, a judge spared Wimmel jail time but placed her on supervised probation and ordered her to pay Jordan at least $300 a month in restitution.
“I am very sorry for what I did,” Wimmel said. “And I intend to pay her back.”
In court, Wimmel’s attorney said she had a history of stealing from people who had upset her — going back to grade school, when she would swipe pencils and troll dolls. “She’s had a long, tortured history of psychological and psychiatric issues,” said the attorney, Mark A. Binstock.
Wimmel has a college degree and works 20 to 25 hours a week as an assistant at a veterinary clinic.
The victim, Jordan, happened into rare-book selling 20 years ago when she was at an estate sale in Virginia and bought an American first-edition copy of “Black Beauty” for several dollars.
It was only when she got home that she realized how much the book was worth. So she went back to the estate sale and bought the remaining six first-edition copies of the book.
She later formed Four Winds Books, operating out of her home along Maiden Lane in Bethesda. One of her next-door neighbors was Wimmel, whom she bonded with in part over Scout, Jordan’s Australian shepherd, and Benji, Wimmel’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel.
As they walked dogs together and became friends, it was not uncommon for Wimmel to come in and out of Jordan’s home.
In January, a fellow bookseller called Jordan from Pennsylvania, saying he had bought two books on eBay, and upon their arrival realized they came from a collection that Jordan had. The Pennsylvania bookseller told Jordan the seller’s name, Christina Wimmel, and Wimmel’s eBay profile name. Using the profile, Jordan searched the books Wimmel had sold or was selling — and realized they’d been taken from Jordan’s house. She went to the police.
Detectives also looked at the eBay records and got a search warrant for Wimmel’s house. Inside, they found “A Domestic Treatise on the Diseases of Horses and Dogs,” published in 1803, with an estimated valued of $750. It was returned to Jordan.
Authorities began working with Wimmel’s attorney, and Wimmel was able to come up with several other books. But Jordan was still out about 40 books, according to court documents.
Zeager hired a book appraiser, Allan J. Stypeck, who estimated values for the missing volumes. A two-volume set of “Alice in Wonderland” from the early 20th century was tabbed at only $30. But others were a big deal — like the 1897 “Irish Wolfdog” volume. “That’s a scarce, scarce book,” Stypeck said Tuesday.
Jordan owned most of the stolen books. Some of the books she had agreed to sell as part of an estate sale, but now that they are missing, she is on the hook for them, according to Zeager.
It’s unclear what Wimmel did with all the books. She clearly sold some on eBay. Zeager, the prosecutor, thinks she may have dumped some into public library return bins. Whatever the case, there are still $22,310 worth of books missing.
“She targeted the best books that I had,” Jordan said in court.
After Wimmel pleaded guilty, District Judge John C. Moffett handed down a sentence of “probation before judgment,” meaning that Wimmel does not stand convicted provided she makes good on the restitution.