Probe expands into attempted theft of Maryland historical papers

Accused men had visited society last month; regional archives notified

July 12, 2011|By Justin Fenton and Julie Baughmann, The Baltimore Sun

At the Maryland Historical Society, they're calling it the Great Cupcake Caper.

Before being arrested by police on Saturday and charged with stealing dozens of historical documents, author and collector Barry H. Landau had brought cupcakes for the center's employees. They figure he was trying to ingratiate himself with the staff, much as he has for decades with political and Hollywood elite.

And it may be a calling card of sorts. As the investigation into the thefts continued to broaden Tuesday, officials at another state historical society said they had been visited multiple times in the past by Landau and his alleged conspirator, who brought Pepperidge Farm cookies for the staff and aroused suspicions with their "odd" behavior.

Word of the arrests has set off a ripple effect among the historic preservation community, with the FBI requesting that other museums and libraries review their logs to see if Landau and 26-year-old Jason Savedoff had been visitors.

Landau is a renowned collector, reputed to have the largest collection of presidential memorabilia outside of museums and the presidential libraries. The former White House protocol officer has claimed to have 1 million artifacts in his Manhattan apartment on West 57th Street.

The director of the Maryland Historical Society confirmed that the pair had previously visited its Baltimore library in June, and authorities were working to account for documents that were checked out during that visit.

The incident has sparked renewed attention to securing priceless and historic artifacts at museums and libraries.

"In historic preservation circles, it's a problem that they've been trying to deal with for some time, and these situations bring it right to the forefront," said Joseph M. Coale, the former president of Historic Annapolis, who served on the board of the Maryland Historic Trust for 25 years. "Maryland has an interesting and unique history that's given great credibility by a lot of these documents" apparently targeted for robbery. "As a Marylander, I'm rather incensed about it."

Authorities declined to discuss the next steps in the investigation, but agents from the National Archives were observed leaving the Maryland Historical Society's Monument Street location around lunchtime Tuesday, boxes under their arms, as an FBI agent with a gun on his hip reviewed documents in the library where the crimes are alleged to have occurred.

"We're trying to determine how widespread this might be," said Richard Wolf, a spokesman for the FBI in Baltimore.

Landau and Savedoff, charged with one count of theft over $100,000, were initially held on $1.5 million bond, but a judge revised that to no bond at a hearing Monday, which Landau's attorney, former federal prosecutor Andrew C. White, called "outrageous."

"Mr. Landau is one of our nation's most well-respected presidential historians, and I think it's outrageous that he's being held without any bond in a property theft case in which none of the allegedly stolen property ever made it out of the historical society," White said. "Clearly, there's a breakdown in the judicial process."

White said he was filing a habeas corpus petition in Baltimore Circuit Court to obtain bail for Landau.

In Philadelphia, Lee Arnold, senior director of the library and collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, said Landau and Savedoff — using the name "Jason James" — had visited more than a dozen times since December, identifying themselves as uncle and nephew. Landau, according to his website, is working on his second book.

Landau introduced himself as a scholar and donated a copy of his first book to the society, and each time he came bearing cookies. But when officials tried to write him a thank-you note, it was sent back as undeliverable. An email address Savedoff gave also appeared to be invalid. Staff became suspicious and called a meeting, and planned to check their driver's licenses upon the next visit.

Of Landau, Arnold said: "He certainly was very personable. He had class. He knew how to conduct himself in a research library." But Savedoff, of whom little is known, was "rough around the edges" and "repeatedly asked naive questions," he said.

"He never understood what we were saying," Arnold said.

Staff members were reviewing footage from surveillance cameras to see if there is any evidence of theft. Kim Sajet, the Pennsylvania society's president and CEO, said they are filling out a report for the FBI.

The FBI issued a request for information, saying that Landau and Savedoff may have used "their true names or permutations thereof." History buffs were trying to get the word out more organically as well — Jennifer Ferretti, the digitization coordinator for the MHS, put out a message on Twitter saying "Please alert all archives (esp. on the East Coast) about Barry Landau! He visited more places than just MdHS."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.