by Sheila Connolly
I have led an exemplary life, legally speaking. Well, there were a few youthful indiscretions back in the seventies, but that was in California and everybody was doing it, and nobody cared much. And there was that one party I threw where the cops came, but nothing came of it. Those were the days.
But for the official record, I have always been squeaky-clean. I've never had a moving violation. I've garnered a total of two parking tickets in decades of driving, and paid them both promptly. I have never stolen anything (we won't talk about that box of paper clips, will we?) or inflicted grievous bodily harm on a fellow human being or an animal. I pay my taxes and give to charity. I am a model citizen.
Because I have been associated with two multi-million-dollar thefts. And if that wasn't bad enough, in my forthcoming Museum Mystery series I'm writing about one.
The first theft occurred when I was in graduate school. A quartet of thieves broke into the museum building where my graduate classes were held, and made off with five thousand Greek coins valued then at $5,000,000. At the time it was said to be the largest known art theft (the total would be a lot higher now, no doubt). The event took place in December 1973, and, yes, I was enrolled at the time and lived only a few blocks away. And I sure could have used the money. I didn't do it.
Of course, that theft was trumped a few years later by the heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Luckily I was living in California at that time, but I had gone to school with a former director, and even lived in the same building as she did for a time, so I could have had inside information, right? I didn't do it. (Are you paying attention, FBI? Do you see me living the life of luxury with my ill-gotten gains here?)
In November 1997, I was working for The Historical Society of Pennsylvania when yet another multi-million-dollar theft was discovered, and that was the inspiration for my coming book. This was a very public event. There was much news coverage ("Live at Five!"). The FBI's Art Theft group was called in. Happily this theft was solved: a disgruntled employee who we all knew and liked had been spiriting articles out of the building for years, mainly to prove that he could. He sold what he took for pennies on the dollar, to a local collector (who, as it turned out, lived about two miles from my house), and much of it was recovered. But I was there. I didn't do it.
I have to admit that I'm curious. Nobody ever interviewed me or otherwise contacted me with regard to any of these thefts. But wouldn't you hope that my name cropping up on a list of people with clear opportunity during the investigation of two major events would send up some red flags? I'd like to think so, if the investigators are doing their job. It's kind of a big coincidence, isn't it?
The immediate question is: do I try to find out? On the surface, it would appear that the FBI would be happy to provide that information, as long as you ask nicely: send them a letter formally requesting "copies of all information maintained by your agency that pertain to myself," under the provisions of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, 5 USC 552, nicely notarized.
Checking the official FBI File Fact Sheet, one finds:–The FBI does not keep a file on every citizen of the United States (can you imagine the paperwork?)–FBI files generally contain reports of FBI investigations of a wide range of matters, including...white-collar crime." Yup, that's where I'd fit.–The Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (aka FOIPA) "...provides responsive documents to requesters seeking 'reasonably described information.'"
So apparently, if I ask politely, they will send me whatever they have. It's a little unclear where I should direct my request. My current local office? The two local offices where the incidents occurred?
But the real question is, do I want to ask? If I make this innocent request, based solely on my lingering curiosity, will it trigger greater interest in my history? Will they take a harder look at me, particularly when my book, describing a completely fictional white-collar crime (really! I made it all up!), comes out in the fall?
What would you do?