Police lead away Joshua Anderson, whom they arrested in connection with selling stolen rare books at Moe’s. The books came from a stolen van that contained $350,000 worth of books. Photo: Ted Friedman
Police lead away Joshua Anderson, whom they arrested in connection with selling stolen rare books at Moe’s. The books came from a stolen van that contained $350,000 worth of books. Photo: Ted Friedman

Berkeley police have arrested a man linked to the theft of $350,000 in rare books, but the books and the van they were housed in are still missing.

Police arrested Joshua Anderson, 30, of Concord after he and a companion allegedly tried to sell four of the stolen books — worth an estimated $13,000 — to Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue. Anderson, who had two outstanding warrants for his arrest, was arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property. He is being held on $45,000 bail in the Berkeley jail. His companion has not been apprehended.

The books belong to Lawrence Van De Carr, a Chicago rare-book dealer. Van De Carr had driven a 2008 silver Ford Econoline XLT van with 30 boxes of books to Pasadena last weekend for an antiquarian book fair. On Monday, he drove to Oakland to stay at a friend’s house. He parked the van outside the home in the 200 block of Whitmore St., near 51st and Pleasant Valley. When he got up Tuesday, Feb. 16, around 10 a.m., the van was gone, he said.

A Hornbook for Witches: Poems of Fantasy, by Leah Bodine Drake

The boxes contained rare modern signed first editions, including literary works and science fiction books. Van De Carr estimates they are worth $350,000. He is not insured for the loss of the books.

“I am devastated,” said Van De Carr, who owns Bookleggers Used Books in Chicago, a store that has about 75,000 books. “It puts me out of the rare book business.”

After calling the Oakland police, Van de Carr called Garrett Scott, head of the stolen books section of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. Scott called Michael Hackenberg, a rare-book dealer in El Cerrito and the Northern California chair of the ABAA. The organization issued a security alert to rare bookstores in Northern California. Hackenberg also called a few bookstores not on the network, including Moe’s, to tell them to be on the lookout for those kinds of books, he said.

A short time later, around 1 p.m., two men came into Moe’s with four rare books. They started to talk to one of the clerks and got him to pay $100 for two science-fiction books published by Arkham House, according to Anthony, another Moe’s worker who was standing near the clerk. One of the books was A Hornbook for Witches: Poems of Fantasy by Leah Bodine Drake, one of only 553 known copies, said Van de Carr. It is considered one of the rarer books published by Arkham House and is worth around $2,200. The other was Always Comes Evening by Robert E. Howard.

Lawrence Van De Carr’s missing van looks like this.
Lawrence Van De Carr’s missing van looks like this.

The clerk buying the books had been out to lunch when the call about the theft came, so he hadn’t known to be on the alert, said Anthony, who had taken the call. Anthony suggested to his co-worker that the two sellers go upstairs to the rare-book room to sell the other books. One of those was a signed, limited first edition of Pylon by William Faulkner, worth around $8,500, and the other was a limited edition of No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, worth around $1,300, said Van De Carr. Taken together, the four books were worth $13,000, he said.

“I thought they had a classic phony story: ‘The uncle died,’” said Anthony, who did not want his last name used because one of the men is still at large. “To my ears, ‘my uncle died,’ is equal to ‘the cat ate my homework.’”

While the two men were taking the elevator upstairs, Anthony called the rare-book room and told the clerk to stall the men. He then called Berkeley police, who arrived around 10 minutes later. The officers wanted to know how Anthony knew the books were stolen, and while they listened to the explanation, the two men got suspicious.

They ran downstairs. One ran out the emergency exit at the back and got away. Anderson ran out the front door but was apprehended by police at Dwight Way and Telegraph Avenue.

Oakland police have not yet recovered the van with the boxes of books. Van de Carr said it was silver and has Illinois environmental plates with a picture of a red cardinal. The license plate reads E-914968.

Van de Carr in front of his booth at a rare book show in New York. Photo: Lawrence Van De Carr

While Van De Carr has a store in Chicago with 75,000 books ranging in price from $2 to $1,000, he spends much of the year driving around the country visiting about 12 to 15 antiquarian book fairs a year, he said. He had recently sold a van with about 311,000 miles on it. The new 2008 silver Ford Econoline only had about 21,000 miles on it when he purchased it a few months ago, he said.

He suspects the thieves wanted the van, not the books inside. The windows are tinted so it would not have been easy to see what was inside.

“It’s ruined my business, he said.

Police ask anyone who spots the silver Ford Econoline van to call local authorities. In Oakland that number is 510-238-3728. In Berkeley, people should call 911 or 510-981-5900 if the van is unoccupied.

Update, 10:30 a.m. Police said in court papers that Anderson was found in possession of personal checks, a 2015 W-2 tax statement and a sale receipt that did not belong to him. He had made out one of the checks to himself. He was charged with receiving stolen property worth more than $950 and identity theft. He remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...