Document theft

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Document theft is the crime of stealing documents of historical, literary, or cultural interest from public or private archives, often for the purpose of sale to private collectors.

In many cases, document thieves occupy positions of trust, or have established records of legitimate accomplishment, prior to their crimes. Examples of notable convicted document thieves include former New York State archivist Daniel D. Lorello,[1] biographer Edward J. Renehan, Jr.,[2][3] Frede Møller-Kristensen (died February 2003) who between 1968 and 1978 stole some 1,600 historical books worth more than $50 million from the Danish National Library, and antiquities dealer E. Forbes Smiley III, who stole nearly 100 maps from libraries in the United States and Great Britain over the course of eight years.[4] In July 2011 it came to light that presidential historian Barry Landau, along with research assistant and accomplice Jason Savedoff, had stolen over one million dollars' worth of documents from the Maryland Historical Society, including papers signed by Abraham Lincoln and other presidential artifacts.[5][6] On June 27, 2012, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Barry Landau to seven years in prison for his crimes.[7]

In addition to letters, maps, and other manuscript material, rare books also attract the attention of document thieves. John Charles Gilkey, for instance, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare books over the course of many years. These crimes were largely the product of a personal obsession, illustrating the range of motives in document thefts.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Albany Times Union, 7 August 2008
  2. ^ "US historian jailed for stealing Lincoln, Washington letters | America-Canada". World Bulletin. 2008-09-20. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  3. ^ "New York Historian Admits Theft of Presidential Letters - Book News - Entertainment". 2008-05-21. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  4. ^ New York Times, 22 June 2006
  5. ^ Tavernise, Sabrina (July 15, 2011). "Held in Document Theft, 'America's Presidential Historian' Faces New Scrutiny". New York Times. Retrieved December 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ Clark, Adam Estes (July 13, 2011). "Barry H. Landau: Cupcake Enthusiast, Alleged Paper Purloiner". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 10, 2012. 
  7. ^ O'Neal Parker, Lonnae (July 6, 2012). "Thefts of Documents Brought Landau Seven-Year Sentence". Washington Post. 
  8. ^ Bartlett, Allison Hoover (2009). The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594488917.