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True Crime: 15 Real-Life Comic Book Robberies

by  in Lists, Comic News Comment
True Crime: 15 Real-Life Comic Book Robberies

Comics are big business. Thanks to the adoption of geek culture and an ongoing series of blockbuster movie adaptations you might have seen, mainstream acceptance of the form has never been higher. Neither has the price people are willing to pay for the good stuff.

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Besides this growing popularity, there’s the increased use of the Certified Guaranty Company, by collectors looking to confirm how much their rare comic books are worth. The CGC will take into account scarcity, condition and other factors when “grading” issues, with some of the most highly-graded titles going for prices in the five or six digits. There’s a lot of people who would like to get their hands on that money.

As the money available from comics becomes common knowledge, so too does the opportunity for criminals to try and take it. The past few years have seen a marked increase in comic book-related theft. Here are fifteen stories of true crime amidst the longboxes.

15. East Vancouver Fantastic Four Heist

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The most recent comic book crime on our blotter occurred north of the border. A Vancouver resident came home during his lunch break to find his back door had been left open. Upon stepping tentatively inside, he found little amiss. The rooms had not clearly been ransacked or torn apart in search of valuables. That is until he got to the 45-kilogram safe where he kept his rare comic book collection — which was gone. Included in that collection was a copy of the very first issue of “Fantastic Four”, which introduced Marvel’s First Family to the world and kicked off the legendary Lee-Kirby partnership of superhero creations.

With an estimated value of between $3,000 to $5,000 for that single issue, the collector in question is obviously eager to get it back. He had given a rough valuation of the entire collection, housed within the safe, claiming it to be worth in excess of $10,000. Other titles included the first three issues of the original “Avengers” run and and 1963’s “Tales of Suspense” #41. At the time of writing this, police are still on the lookout for the perpetrator, asking comics fans to be on the lookout for sales of these rare books.

14. Cops Track Purloined Books To eBay

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In April of 2016, thousands of pounds of comic book and movie memorabilia were recovered by police in the English city of Coventry. The collection was reported stolen from a home in the Foleshill area of the West Midlands city, and included computer games, movie memorabilia, comics and ornaments. They went missing as part of a string of break-ins which had been plaguing the suburb since July of the previous year. Unlike many of those cases, however, this one had a happy ending.

West Midlands Police caught wind of an eBay listing for the stolen goods. There’s a reason the professional criminals in heist movies always make sure to have a “fence”, although listing stuff yourself online is probably easier. It turned out to be the downfall of this couple of perpetrators – a 38-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman – as they were arrested on suspicion of burglary soon after the auction was verified as to be for the stolen goods. Police also found a van on their property filled with even more loot worth around £12,000. A spokesman said: “The pair have been released on bail with strict conditions while our investigation continues and the property will be returned to its rightful owner.”

13. The Alpha Comics Break-In

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If you’re the sort with loose morals and a desperate need for a quick buck, knocking over a local business is probably your best bet. (Not that we condone this sort of behavior, of course.) The owner of Alpha Comics in Calgary, however, found that a couple of local ne’er-do-wells were after something other than money. At around 2.25am on the morning of May 28, 2015, the pair broke into the shop, completely ignoring the register in favor of the merchandise. Security camera footage shows them pulling new titles from the shelves, filling a garbage bag.

“There was some really cool comics that got stolen, that were written and created by people who are trying to make comics better,” Alpha Comics owner Chris Humphries told local news hosts. “The dollar value of the individual comics is not very high. Actually I sell comics in this store here at the suggested US retail price, so per comic, it’s not very expensive. But they took a lot.” The thieves made off with several thousand dollars worth of comics, although Humphries predicted they would find it harder to offload what were mostly recent indie titles and Image books as opposed to superhero books or rarities.

12. $250,000 Of Justice League Stolen In Georgia

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The Justice League of America is one of the most iconic concepts in superhero comics. An all-star line-up of DC heroes, originally launched as a retooled version of the Golden Age Justice Society by legendary editor Julius Schwartz, their early appearances are now worth a pretty penny (something which will surely increase when they make their upcoming big-screen debut). Comics Plus, a comic book shop in Macon, Georgia, was lucky in this regard: they had copies of the first eight issues of the original “Justice League” run in their stock, with plenty of other vintage rarities besides.

They were unlucky in the respect that those issues were among the items stolen during a break-in in March of 2016. The criminals pried open the front door with a crowbar, bypassed the security system, and raided a collection that also included the first 20 issues of “X-Men,” as well as $2,200 in cash. Store owner Will Peavy estimated the “Justice League” issues were worth $100,000, and that the X-Men set also had a “six-figure value.” Since they were graded books, he hopes to be able to trace the serial numbers if the thieves ever try to sell the stolen comics.

11. 4,000 Comics Robbed From Man With Cerebral Palsy

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“I didn’t have friends growing up. My whole life was comic books and I’ve been made fun of every day. It was a way for me to take myself out of this reality, so I wouldn’t always be hurt.” The words of Steffan Warren, a sufferer of cerebral palsy, which serve to make the unfortunate circumstances he found himself a part of at the beginning of 2016 all the more tragic. Denver native Warren had his home broken into whilst he was at work. The possessions stolen included his entire comic collection, as well as some statues and electronic goods.

All told, the collection was reported to be worth around $30,000. Not that it was the money that mattered to Warren. Apparently the local Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office made some serious investigations into the robbery, but they have thus far turned up nothing. Warren isn’t particularly concerned about the material worth of what was stolen. Nor did he want to see the criminals brought to justice, as blood-boiling as what they did is. All he wanted was to have the collection that meant so much to him returned. Realistically, though, he was resigned to the likelihood he would never see any of it again.

10. Megacon-Graded Classics Stolen Whilst Ghostbuster Was Suiting Up

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Whilst comics are often purloined from stores or private residences, there’s one other main location where thieves are waiting to strike: the comic convention floor. With exhibitors and sellers bringing along wares of varying value to sell to attendees, all it takes is a brief distraction away from a longbox full of back issues for somebody to exert their five finger discount. Or you could be disposed for a longer period, as collector Carlos Rosaly found when he attended Megacon 2016 in Orlando.

Rosaly had a stack of books stolen whilst he was suiting up outside the venue. He was busy changing into a Ghostbusters costume, but his proton pack didn’t power up soon enough to stop the criminal from making off with about a dozen highly-graded back issues from the steps of the Orange County Convention Centre. Included in those issues was “Amazing Spider-Man” #1, “Journey Into Mystery” #103 and “Giant-Sized X-Men” #1, the latter of which was soon recovered from a local vendor. He described the thief as “a man in his 50s, with a greyish mustache, very round with slicked back greyish hair [wearing] a military hat” and gave a full list of details about the missing comics online.

9. Vigilante Justice At Westlake Comics, Cards and Coins

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Sometimes, these comics theft stories end with the stolen goods being returned to their rightful owners. The bad guys are brought to justice, everything wraps up the way a good story should. More often than not, though, the ill-gotten gains are never returned. Hopefully insurance covers the financial cost, but sometimes they don’t; and the emotional loss is something harder to remedy. A notable exception came when the owner-operator of Westlake Comics, Cards and Coins in Illinois shot dead an alleged robber who was holding him up.

A news report of the 2006 incident explains that a 40-year-old man was shot multiple times by the owner, including once in the head. The erstwhile thief was on parole at the time for armed robbery, which he was convicted of some ten years prior. Thanks to surveillance footage from inside the store proving that he used justifiable force in the situation, the proprietor of Westlake Coins, Cards and Comics was not charged with anything for his violent defense of the store. Following a brief stay in the hospital to treat a gunshot wound he sustained to the arm, he was released and continued to trade in Roselle until Christmas 2015 when he finally shut up shop.

8. Craigslist Comic Sale Turns Out To Be A Scam

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Craigslist is as well known for its usage as a way to find casual hook-ups and potential murder victims as much as it is for second-hand couches in your neighborhood. The criminal usages of Craigslist, even in a post-Deep Web world, remain popular. It’s even be used in the pursuit of ripping off comics fans, as a couple of unfortunate bargain hunters discovered in the spring of 2015. 51-year-old former shop owner Gene Bartholomew and a friend took $50,000 in cash to a meeting with somebody claiming to be selling their collection on the website.

When they arrived with their sack full of money in the backyard of a fancy suburban home, the agreed meeting place, the men they had been haggling with online turned out to be armed, dangerous, and in possession of exactly zero rare comic books. Messages between the two parties, recounting an inheritance of rare comics from a man called “Peter’s” uncle turned out to be false. Things quickly took a turn for the dramatic as Bartholomew tossed his bag of money over a fence and lunged at the three hucksters, managing to disarm and subdue one whilst the other two made off with the cash.

7. The Tampa Bay Comic Con Theft

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Security is a tough proposition at comic conventions. Often the venue will have their own security staff on retainer, with extra numbers brought in for the larger cons. What happens when everybody goes home, though? Vendors especially either have the option of breaking down their entire stands, taking all their stock home and bringing it back the next morning, or else leaving it unattended — but hopefully locked up safely — on the con floor overnight. Rick Whitelock of New Force Comics opted for the latter during the 2016 Tampa Bay Comic Con. The next morning, he found a huge amount of rare comics stolen.

Stock which had been locked up overnight on the Thursday was discovered missing on the Friday. That included high-graded copies of “Amazing Fantasy” #15, featuring the debut of Spider-Man, plus “Amazing Spider-Man” #1, “The Incredible Hulk” #1, “X-Men” #1 and Doctor Strange’s first appearance in “Strange Tales” #110. A classic locked-room mystery, Whitelock and con organisers could find nothing of use in the venue’s security tapes. The stock amounted to roughly $85,000 in value. Covered by insurance, thankfully, but as yet the crime itself remains unsolved.

6. Terry Brooks Has His Collection Robbed

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Terry Brooks is the fantasy author famed for his epic series of “Shannara” books, over 20 of which have found their way onto the New York Times bestseller list. Like many of his peers, he is a huge comic book geek. He has used a portion of his not-inconsiderable fortune to build an impressive collection of classic issues, worth between $100,000 and $500,000. Perhaps aware that owning such a valuable collection is not without its dangers, he entrusted this collection to the law firm he worked at before finding literary success.

Turns out their safekeeping skills were oversold. A paralegal at the firm named Trisha J. Clemens was later charged with “knowingly obtained or exerted unauthorized control over…numerous vintage comic books” between the dates of January 1st, 2010, and February 12, 2012. In layman’s terms: she stole them. An inside job! The discovery was made during an ongoing investigation of Clemens, who had already been charged with felony theft due to misappropriations of funds from the firm of between $100,000 and $500,000. One of the conditions for her being released on bail was she was not allowed to own any comic books. Surely that’s punishment enough.

5. Alternative Comics Keeps Getting Held Up

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Poor old Wow Cool Alternative Comics. Besides having a slightly obtuse name that’s difficult to say aloud, they also have to shoulder the burden of having been robbed multiple times, and in rapid succession. The store in Cupertino, California, appears to be a favorite spot for a local gang of crooks. The first time they plundered the shop’s contents they got away with “several hundred dollars of comics and books,” having broken in by throwing a rock through the front display window. Along with pricey art books, they took new releases by small press darlings like Devin Flynn and Noah Van Sciver.

If that wasn’t bad enough, they returned to the scene of the crime a mere two months later. The second time, the thieves were a little more selective in their looting. Among the stolen items were an iPod Touch, a couple of locked metal cash boxes, and a great deal more merchandise the shop found difficult to replace. It included a longbox of approximately 150 Marvel and DC titles, several new books, and “every minicomic and digest in the shop…all the Michael DeForge, Jim Rugg, Kevin Huizenga and many many more.” Bouncing back again was tougher, and they asked for help replacing their stock and the front window, which was shattered once more.

4. Pursuing Suspects On Foot At New York Comic Con

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New York Comic Con has grown at an exponential rate in the past few years, to a point where it almost rivals the monolithic San Diego event in terms of size. There are huge guests, an impressive attendance, and a lot of money involved. It’s not short of dramatic events, either. The 2010 convention included reports of a real-life vigilante crimefighter appearing at the Javits Center. Rather than sitting back and letting a pair of thieves make off with his merchandise, comic book vendor Matt Nelson sprang to his feet and gave chase across the convention floor.

The pair had managed to lift some rare comics worth over $20,000, including a 1939’s “Action Comics” #11 (valued at $4,000) and “Whiz Comics” #1 (the first appearance of Captain Marvel/Shazam usually goes for around $11,000 at auction). They struck as the convention was winding down for the day, hoping to evade capture in the mass exodus of 40,000 attendees. They didn’t count on Nelson noticing their sticky fingers. He cornered one of the crooks with the help of other vendors who quickly caught onto the ongoing situation. That one was taken into custody by con security, whilst the other got away with several Western comics worth $300 each.

3. Anthony Chiofalo, Comics Conman

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Anthony Chiofalo managed to scam his way into a fortune of roughly $9M, almost getting away with it thanks to comic book auctions. A corporate lawyer with 20 years experience, his strong professional showing masked a fraught personal life. After an acrimonious divorce from the mother of his children, he lost a steady job as in-house counsel for a construction company when they discovered he was embezzling company funds in order to pay his legal fees. He charged to firms and attorneys he had made up, creating an elaborate paper trail his employers had trouble untangling.

All told, he stole almost $10M from the company. As anybody who’s watched “Breaking Bad” knows, you can’t just have that sort of money sitting around in your account. He decided to launder it. The form Chiofalo’s money laundering took was in placing bids at rare comic auctions, which soared far above and beyond the asking price. After struggling to sell the books he was purchasing with illegal funds, his scheme being discovered by a private detective hired by his employers, Chiofalo disappeared. He wasn’t arrested until some years later, much to the chagrin of the few collectors who had to return the books they bought from him.

2. The Canadian Comic Distributor Who Stole Millions

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Compared to most of the other schemes on this list, Universal Distribution’s is truly epic. A Canadian distributor of cards, comics and assorted other pop-culture gear, they also happened to be in the same area as Quebecor, a major printer of sports cards and comic books. It took a couple of decades to come to light, but it turns out that the brothers who run Universal had allegedly been opening deliveries from Quebecor destined for local stores, took all the rare and valuable products, then filled their place with run-of-the-mill replacements.

Comic store owner Peter Lee, who introduced himself as representing “a group of retail comic book and sports cards collectible shops” in Quebec, launched a class-action suit against Universal. In his announcement, Lee claimed those he represented had “been scammed and frauded of thousands of their hard earned dollars.” The distributor’s dodgy business practices are estimated to stretch all the way back to the ’90s speculator boom, with Lee giving specific allegations regarding the “Death and Return of Superman” event and the launch of Image Comics. Mixed into all this are extra accusations of tax fraud, price-fixing, and monopolizing of the distributor market.

1. Raiding Nicolas Cage’s Superman Vault

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Nicolas Cage loves Superman. He even named his second child Kal-El, as well as petitioned hard for the title role in Tim Burton’s ultimately unmade “Superman Lives”. He sunk a large amount of money into his collection of Superman memorabilia over the years, the crowning achievement being his copy of “Action Comics” #1. Worth in excess of $2M, it’s the highest publicly-graded copy of Superman’s first appearance.

Thieves broke into the actor’s Los Angeles home in 2000, swiping the comic from its security frame on the wall along with two other priceless collector’s’ items. The copy already had a strange history, having appeared from nowhere during an auction at Sotheby’s in 1992. Cage later bought it from an unknown collection in 1997. It resurfaced 11 years after it first vanished, when an unidentified man found it among the contents of an abandoned Southern California storage locker he’d bought.

Afterwards, the money-stricken star sold his “Action Comics” #1 for a record-breaking $2.16m. “Reno 9/11!” creators and stars Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon later wrote a comedy based on the crime. Last we heard, Jason Statham was circling one of the lead roles with the hope being that Cage will play himself.

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