June 5, 2012

Details on the Book of Mormon theft


A rare first edition of the Book of Mormon was stolen from the Rare and Out of Print Books and Art shop in Mesa, Arizona, over the Memorial Day weekend, according to a report in the Arizona Republic.

The bookshop had become something of a point of pilgrimage for devout Mormons. According to the Arizona Republic, “Some missionaries would cry as they touched the rare book, one of 5,000 printed in 1830 after Joseph Smith found the gold plates that he translated into the Book of Mormon, which members of the faith consider to be scripture alongside the Bible.”

Helen Schlie, owner of the shop, discovered the theft when two young Mormon missionaries from Asia, came to the shop on Monday to have their pictures taken with the book. It had last been placed in a fireproof box and left in an unlocked filing cabinet the Friday evening before the busy holiday weekend.

Schlie, who bought the book back in the late 1960s, valued it at $100,000 when she reported the theft, and said that it was not insured. It was widely known that Schlie owned a copy of the rare book. Back in 2005, she became the center of a controversy when she decided to sell off pages of the book one by one for $2,500 to $4,000 a piece. She told the Republic that she has sold approximately 40 pages of the 588 page book.

Many in the Church of the Latter Day Saints community disapproved of her selling the pages, believing that it was a sacrilege to cut the book up. Though others believed it to be a powerful teaching tool for those who owned or where exposed to the pages. Gary Hyde, a customer and owner of a page, said that his page has been very effective in his missionary work.

Hyde expressed dismay over the book’s theft, telling the Republic that touching the book at Schlie’s store was a very powerful experience for many people. “Just to have it in their hands brings a little bit of inspiration to them,” Hyde said. “This is one of the original Books of Mormon, and they feel the spirit.”

David LeSueur, a church spokesman, said in statement, “I hope whoever took it reads it, ponders it carefully and returns it.”


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.