The bookstore "Rare and Out of Print Books and Art", run by 88 year-old Mormon Helen Schlie near the Mesa Arizona Mormon Temple, was famous for the first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon which it contained. This book, valued at $100,000, was one of just 5,000 printed in 1830 after Joseph Smith claimed to have translated its text from some gold plates he had found. Schlie had bought it in the late 1960s from a man so desperate for money that he was willing to sell a family heirloom. Mormons would come to just touch the precious volume and have their photos taken with it ("I tell people they are sharing their DNA with Joseph Smith himself," says Schlie). Gary Hyde, one of her customers and a winter resident of Mesa, says that holding the book at Schlie's store was a very personal and powerful religious experience for many people. "Just to have it in their hands brings a little bit of inspiration to them," Hyde said. "This is one of the original Books of Mormon, and they feel the spirit".
In 2005, Schlie became somewhat of a controversial figure among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she announced plans to sell pages from the book for $2,500 to $4,000 apiece. She estimated she has sold 40 of the book's 588 pages, each mounted in a wooden frame. Some critics consider divvying up the book as sacrilegious or disrespectful of its history. But Schlie [and...] Hyde [...] said the LDS Church gave its blessing to the project, viewing it as a way of strengthening people's faith. Hyde said his page is an effective teaching tool in his missionary work, which is appropriate because his page contains a passage about the importance of missionary work. [...] "I use it in various testimonies. I put the page to good work," Hyde said.Sometime over the Memorial Day weekend this year, the book was stolen. One is left to wonder whether the heavily mutilated volume was stolen for the reduced monetary worth it represented in that state, or whether it was taken by somebody wanting to save it from further indignities at the hands of the page-slicing owner. We have seen that "breaking the law to save the artefact" arguments are quite popular in the United States of America. If the latter was the reason, I'd like to hear some of the collectors who apply these arguments to a no-questions-asked trade in dugup archaeological artefacts give their opinions on the propriety of taking the book from Ms Schlie. Of the book's theft, Schlie said, "I'm hoping someone will bring it back, let it finish its mission" (the remaining pages would be worth upwards of $1,370,000 sliced up).
Jim Walsh, 'First-edition Book of Mormon stolen in Mesa', The Republic | azcentral.com May 31, 2012
UPDATE 15th June 2012:
'Police arrest man suspected of stealing Book of Mormon' June 14, 2012 \
Authorities have arrested the man suspected of stealing a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon from a Mesa bookstore. Jay Michael Linford, 48, was arrested Tuesday in Herndon, Virginia for theft and trafficking in stolen property. Linford is currently being held at a detention facility in Fairfax, Virginia awaiting extradition.Sadly the man is accused of having already sold at least two more pages ripped out of the book to a dealer in the Dallas-Fort Worth for $7,500. The dealer did not enquire too closely into where the pages had come from - until he heard about the book theft after the purchase, when he contacted the police.