Patrick Rooney, 55, of Colchester was arraigned in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington on January 21 on charges of petty larceny and sale of stolen property. He pleaded not guilty and was scheduled to return to court on February 19.
Rooney holds an unusual place in recent Vermont history. He’s the most persistent and spectacularly unsuccessful library thief we’ve encountered.
His heisting history began in 1991, when, according to reports in the January 14, 1991, issue of the Burlington Free Press, he was arrested for possession of property stolen from the Essex (Vermont) Library. That library lost historic photographs, books, and unidentified “furniture.” Rooney paid a $50 fine for that episode.
In July 1994 he was charged with stealing two Civil War tintypes from the Charlotte (Vermont) Historical Society’s small, summer-only museum/library. The society’s secretary noticed his furtive demeanor while in the building and wrote down his pickup truck’s license plate number when he left. She called the state police, and the tintypes were recovered within hours. On September 23, 1994, Rooney and a prosecutor reached the plea bargain that resulted in a fine of $317.50 for that infraction.
In 2001, Rooney was back in court again, but the locale had changed. This time the theft took place in Windham County, one of the Green Mountain State’s two southernmost counties. On November 5, 2001, Rooney was charged with grand larceny for the theft of several Civil War items including a bullet-holed kepi or forage cap (an item worth in the neighborhood of $10,000) from the Townshend (Vermont) Public Library.
The theft was discovered, and a description of the items was carried in the Brattleboro Reformer, Windham County’s largest newspaper. An Ohio collector, who’d been called by Rooney with the news that he’d bought a bullet-holed kepi and that it might be for sale, read about the library theft, put two and two together, and called Vermont police. Rooney’s Ferrisburg home was raided, and the stolen items were seized. On May 14, 2002, Patrick J. Rooney, then 43, was sentenced to two to eight years in prison, all suspended but 30 days.
Now on January 21, 2014, came the news that Rooney was arraigned at the Vermont Superior Court in Burlington for petty larceny and sale of stolen property. Burlington police accused Rooney of attempting to sell a 1791 document concerning one of Vermont’s founding fathers, Ira Allen, brother of the iconic Ethan Allen, to a librarian at the University of Vermont’s Bailey-Howe Library in December 2013.
The document had been stolen from Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library, the city’s main library. The two libraries are seven-tenths of a mile apart, a roughly three-minute drive or a short brisk walk. The document had been removed from an 800-page book usually kept in a locked glass case. Its worth is approximately $500, Vermont historians say. Allegedly, Rooney had asked $175 for it.
Rooney denied the theft at the arraignment.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest