BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor man was charged with a felony Wednesday in connection with the theft last week of thousands of dollars worth of Civil War, World War I and World War II memorabilia from the Bangor Public Library.
Besides Class C theft, Russell Graves, 27, also was charged with violating the conditions of his release from a prior arrest, Sgt. Cathy Rumsey of the Bangor Police Department said in a news release.
Graves is accused of stealing about 75 Civil War-era cartes de visite, small 2½-by-4-inch portraits that were extremely popular during the war, which were recovered. Also recovered were about 50 posters from World War I and World War II. The estimated value of the stolen items was pegged at about $31,000.
He also allegedly stole some photographs depicting the Bangor fire of 1911, but he apparently didn’t realize that they weren’t originals, according to Special Collections Librarian Bill Cook.
Graves is being held at Penobscot County Jail on $1,000 cash bail, a jail official confirmed. Among the conditions of his release are a 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew and an order to stay away from the library.
Graves was working as a janitor under the city’s workfare program when the thefts were discovered. Workfare is a system under which general assistance recipients work for the city or nonprofits in return for receiving their subsidy. Graves no longer works at the library, Cook said.
The thefts were discovered Feb. 25, after Graves allegedly tried to sell some of the items at Maritime International, a buyer and seller of collectibles located at 93 Central St., about a half block away from the library.
Graves allegedly claimed the items had been passed down by his grandmother, Maritime International owner Paul Zebiak said Tuesday. He was accompanied by a woman, who has not been identified by police.
Zebiak believed something was off about Graves’ story and did not purchase the items as Graves lacked valid identification.
Aware that the Bangor Public Library has a collection of similar war memorabilia, Zebiak contacted the library after the man left his store. Library staff checked the archives and confirmed they were in fact missing a large number of items from their collection.
Prior to Zebiak’s call, the library wasn’t aware of the theft. Police were notified and launched an investigation. The suspect did not return to work after Feb. 25.
On Feb. 27, the man’s girlfriend returned to Maritime International with the items in tow again, hoping to try again to sell the items, according to Zebiak. He called Bangor police and stalled the female until officers arrived.
Rumsey said the woman has not been charged in connection with the incident.
Cook said the items were taken from “the cage,” a storage area in the basement where the library keeps a portion of its collection. He was seen by a volunteer inside or near the cage on two separate occasions early last week, just before showing up at Zebiak’s store. When questioned, he told the volunteer he was cleaning.
Graves was not authorized to be in the cage, Cook said, adding that the area is off limits even to most staff.
The cage isn’t secure, but that will change during the library’s renovations, which will result in the collections moving into humidity-controlled rooms with locked doors and improved security measures.
Cook credited police with their work to recover the stolen items, which are being stored in evidence at the Bangor Police Department.
BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.