The man sought by the FBI for questioning in the thefts of antique maps from rare books libraries has cleared out an antique maps shop he operated in Florida. He left a note early yesterday saying he was headed for Maryland, his landlord said.
Gilbert Joseph Bland Jr. and his wife, Karen, emptied the small shop in Tamarac, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, sometime late Thursday or early yesterday, according to Steve Strachman of Strachman Real Estate, the shop's landlord.
"I got this note this morning saying, 'See you later,' " he said yesterday. "It appears 90 percent moved out. All his valuable stuff -- the maps he had, the stock and so forth -- appears to be out of there."
Mr. Strachman said he had not been contacted by the FBI. The bureau reported no new developments in the case yesterday.
The landlord said the Blands had operated the shop, Antique Maps and Collectibles Ltd., in the upscale Gardens Mall for almost two years. They paid their rent on time, but the lease was to expire next month.
In their note, the Blands asked the landlord to use their security deposit to pay the final month's rent. Mr. Strachman said he wrote the Blands insisting on the payment.
The Blands' note also said the couple was "moving back to Maryland," he said. They left a toll-free number and an address in Columbia. The 800 number leads to a recording. Mr. Strachman would not disclose the address.
Officials at Tamarac City Hall said yesterday the occupational license issued to Antique Maps and Collectibles Ltd. in February 1994 expired Oct. 1. It was issued in the name of Karen Bland.
A Johns Hopkins University spokesman said this week that a man caught Dec. 7 at the George Peabody Library admitted cutting a map from a 1763 book entitled "The General History of the Late War," by John Entick. That map was recovered.
He had given library employees a University of Florida student identification card in the name of James Perry. But a Florida driver's license he showed Baltimore police gave his name as Gilbert Joseph Bland Jr.
He was released after paying the library several hundred dollars in cash restitution. He is described by the FBI as white, in his mid-40s, about 5 feet 9 inches, 160 to 170 pounds, with a mustache and sandy-colored hair.
After their suspect was released, Peabody library officials discovered that 12 more maps or prints were missing from two other books handled by Mr. "Perry" earlier Dec. 7.
They also found two items missing from another book handled by a James Perry during a mid-September visit to Peabody.
Electronic mail queries by Hopkins turned up evidence at seven other institutions that maps and prints were missing from books handled by a James Perry.
Three southern universities and the Peabody Library were hit between Dec. 4 and 7.
* Duke University reported 16 missing maps or illustrations -- some more than 300 years old. Records showed a Mr. Perry had handled the books during at least five visits between July 1994 and last week.
* The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported maps missing from 17th- and 18th-century books.
* The University of Virginia said at least three 17th-century books were found damaged.
In addition, Brown University in Providence, R.I., reported a map missing from a rare 17th-century book handled by a Mr. Perry in mid-September.
University of Chicago officials said yesterday that a Mr. Perry gained access Oct. 31 to "a number of 16th- and 17th-century books on geography and atlases."
The volumes were in the Special Collections Department of the Joseph Regenstein Library. University spokesman Larry Arbiter said experts there are still working to determine whether anything is missing.
The allegations surrounding Mr. Bland surprised his Florida landlord. "Looking at them and seeing how they operated, I wouldn't have selected them as the people you're telling me this about," Mr. Strachman said. "I would say they seemed like the type of people that didn't have a lot of money, and they were not flamboyant in any way. They were very modest people."
Antique maps have become increasingly valuable and sought-after in recent years, and more businesses are specializing in them. But the Blands' antique maps business in Florida caught the attention of other dealers.
James A. Kissko, owner of Camelot Books in Baltimore, a small mail-order business specializing in antique maps, said the Blands' ads began appearing in trade publications about two years ago. They offered "bread-and-butter American-type maps" at wholesale prices, he said.
"He seemed to have identified a treasure trove of materials that no one else knew anything about," Mr. Kissko said. Although many of the items were relatively unremarkable, he seemed to have multiple copies of some, which is unusual.