CNN called Barry H. Landau "one of the foremost collectors of presidential artifacts and memorabilia" in an interview published for July 4 this year. Less than a week later, Landau sat in a Baltimore jail cell charged with the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of documents from the Maryland Historical Society. An employee at the center had seen the 63-year-old collector stash a document and leave the building. Upon apprehending him, police searched his locker and found 60 documents, including papers signed by Lincoln and a number of inaugural ball invitations. According to The Baltimore Sun, the historical society staff are calling the affair the Great Cupcake Caper.
Landau built his collection of presidential memorabilia, the largest outside of a museum, with the help of close ties to everyone from local historians to celebrities to administrations themselves. The New York City-based collector had showed up at the Maryland Historical Society on Saturday with a plate of cupcakes for the center's staff, a goodwill measure that The Sun says is a "calling card of sorts." Jason Savedoff, an accomplice, arrived with Landau, and apparently, the two of them have been busy. The Historical Society of Philadelphia says the pair, sometimes using pseudonyms, has visited a dozen times so far this year but behaved very oddly:
Landau introduced himself as a scholar and donated a copy of his first book to the society, and each time he came bearing cookies. But when officials tried to write him a thank-you note, it was sent back as undeliverable. An email address Savedoff gave also appeared to be invalid. Staff became suspicious and called a meeting, and planned to check their driver's licenses upon the next visit.
Of Landau, Arnold said: "He certainly was very personable. He had class. He knew how to conduct himself in a research library." But Savedoff, of whom little is known, was "rough around the edges" and "repeatedly asked naive questions," he said.
The FBI got involved in the case after Saturday's arrest, and they wonder if Landau may have stolen documents before. "We're trying to determine how widespread this might be," said FBI spokesman Richard Wolf.
Landau claims to have over a million items of presidential memorabilia in his W. 57th Street apartment. Thomas Jefferson's inauguration With his deep knowledge of the history of presidential events, he's also served on every Inaugural Committee since 1965. The Clinton family grew close enough to the collector that they used to send their dog Buddy on playdates with Landau. (In fact, Landau says he's spent time with White House pets since the Kennedy administration and has a number of photographs in his collection to prove it.) According to Landau's website, the collection also includes “26,000 presidential menus and invitations and the original key to the White House.”
The case against Landau is building. The FBI has launched an investigation into Landau's visits to other historical societies, who all report odd behavior. Landau's lawyer and former federal prosecutor Andrew C. White scoffs at the charges. "Mr. Landau is one of our nation's most well-respected presidential historians, and I think it's outrageous that he's being held without any bond in a property theft case in which none of the allegedly stolen property ever made it out of the historical society," White told The Sun. "Clearly, there's a breakdown in the judicial process."
While authorities are figuring out whether the case will fall under state of federal jurisdiction, Landau remains in jail, and he may be there a while. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for August 11.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.