Colchester's book thief back in court - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Colchester's book thief back in court

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Patrick Rooney Patrick Rooney

Under lock and key at the Fletcher Free Library is a piece of Vermont history returned home after an estimated three years in a thief's hands.

"It goes as far as this page and then if you didn't know any better it looks like there's nothing else in the book," said the Library's Robert Resnick.

The book -- Burlington Proprietors: Volume 1 -- dates back to 1791, with connections to some of Vermont's founders. "It's like every other piece of historical documentation. When it's gone, it's gone," Resnick said.

And one page was gone... at least for awhile. It chronicled plot sizes in Sterling, a Chittenden County town that no longer exists on the modern map. "You can't see that there was a page removed," Resnick said.

The missing document went unnoticed for years -- sliced out by a skilled thief -- until an observant library clerk helped police crack the case.

Patrick Rooney, 55, was arrested last week after police said he tried to sell the stolen document to UVM's Bailey Howe Library for $175.  Turns out it was the Colchester man's  critical mistake.  "We were extremely fortunate that this clerk at the Bailey Howe library actually realized that this document was something that they scanned in several years ago and knew that something was up," said Burlington Police Lt. Art Cyr.

The clerk reported the suspicious proposition to police, telling them he recognized Patrick Rooney and would frequently buy historical items from him. At first Rooney told investigators he got the document from an auction -- later confessing that he "figured it would not be missed."

"It wasn't just the police going out and doing an investigation, which we did and we did our job, but without the community and the folks from both libraries -- without their assistance it wouldn't have been wrapped up this fast," Lt. Cyr said.

Rooney pleaded not guilty in court -- and tried his best to duck Channel 3's camera.

He was released, but police say this is not his first heist. In 2001Rooney was arrested and held for lack of $2 million bail for allegedly swiping civil war artifacts from the Townshend library.

"It's kind of like a warning shot in some ways because if one thing can be taken, you can be sure other things that have not been found out have probably also been taken over time. And so it's something for local libraries of all sizes to be really aware of that," Resnick said.

Staff here at the Fletcher Free Library said this crime has forced them to take a hard look at security and change the way they safeguard their special collections. "What we usually do is we take a driver's license at least.  Now the policy is changed. If someone wanted to look at that book for instance, we'd have to sit with them," Resnick said.

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