Thursday, June 14, 2007

Updates/Comments on Atlas Theft

First, a brief update on the status of the case against Rebecca Streeter-Chen, the former Rockland County Historical Society curator accused of stealing the Society's 1823 Tanner atlas. At her most recent court appearance (last Monday) I'm told Ms. Streeter-Chen made bail and was released pending indictment by a grand jury for the theft. No word as to when that will occur.

Also, Travis has written a couple posts on this case over at Upward Departure: in the first, he writes that this case "began tugging at the heartstrings," noting Ms. Streeter-Chen's husband's claim (to the media) of responsibility and blaming the events on a "drinking problem." Travis writes "All defendants plea for mercy based on circumstance (from bad upbringing to drug addiction to heart condition to dependents, I’ve seen almost everything). And no circumstance justifies stealing books from your place of employment; I am certainly not in favor of leniency in this case. It’s just that most of the rest of the cases I look at seem to be done (despite protestations to the contrary) for greed or revenge. This one just seems different."

I'm not sure I agree. Seems pretty straightforward to me, except that clearly Mr. Chen should have charges brought against him as well, for conspiracy if nothing else. Presumably he didn't commit the actual theft, nor was he the one who took the book to Philadelphia in an attempt to sell it (details here). But he was almost certainly involved at one level or another.

In his second post, Travis comments on the capture of Ms. Streeter-Chen, calling it "another example of the UD’s First Rule of Rare Book Theft: It is very difficult to profit from the crime without a pre-determined buyer. The internet has made an already small community a lot smaller." Indeed, as we know it was an email bulletin about the theft that alerted the prospective seller to the atlas' status and allowed its recovery (and the capture of Streeter-Chen).

[Update: Travis responds, with "UD’s Second Rule of Rare Book Theft: Thieves, regardless of motivation, are a scourge and do not deserve our sympathy." He adds, and I should have made this clear in my original post "I, of course, never advocated any lenient punishment for Streeter-Chen (or her husband); but I also didn’t take her to task the way I ordinarily do book thieves. Especially considering her role as protector of historical artifacts." He's right in saying that I also should have included the line from his first post in which he says "When it comes to book thieves the UD is not known for his compassion. I think they should be clapped in irons and thrown in a well. But, apparently that’s not, you know, constitutional."

I know a book-person who was originally quoted as telling Miles Harvey (author of The Book of Lost Maps) that book thieves should be beheaded for their crimes (or at least lose a limb or two). When Harvey called to verify to quotation as the book was going to press, this person decided that was a bit harsh and toned down the language. I told him he should have done no such thing.]