Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2023 Issue

What Do You Do After Being Caught Stealing Over 100,000 Books? Steal Some More!

Xiao Wenja on video before his 2015 arrest.

If you somehow manage to steal over 100,000 books before getting caught, what is it you are good at? Presumably, that is the question Xiao Wenjia of Taiwan contemplated after being let out of prison in 2018. Various sources have placed the number of books he stole at 120,000 and 200,000. Evidently, 80,000 books more or less is a rounding error at this level.

 

Xiao's modus operandi was to go into bookstores wearing a large backpack. He was able to fit 20 books at a time in it. Why that backpack didn't raise suspicions is a mystery. He picked stores that didn't have much of a security system. Obviously, he picked well. He filled the shelves from which he had taken books with others in the store to reduce suspicion. Sometimes, he would reenter the store several times to pick up more. Then he moved on, first to other stores and then to other cities. Spreading thefts around made it less likely anyone would focus on him. He visited around 50 different bookstores during a seven-year career.

 

Xiao filled up his house and then found warehouses to store them. He hired helpers who didn't know the nefarious source of his books. Not even his wife knew the source. She believed he was a legitimate wholesaler. She has since divorced him so she must not have been impressed when she found out. Xiao put his stolen books for sale online, generally at a 40% discount from the prices at which the stores sold them.

 

It all came crashing down one day in 2015 when he stole books from a store that was checking its inventory that night. They noticed the missing books, checked out security camera images, and identified a suspect. When police paid him a visit, they found thousands of books in his house. That made them particularly suspicious since he had been charged with shoplifting from bookstores in the past. Xiao confessed and was sentenced to 1 ½ years in prison.

 

Once he got out, Xiao returned to his old ways. Book stores were suspicious of him when books went missing, but they had no evidence to justify an arrest. Then he made another mistake. He shoplifted a couple of bottles of Corona beer, lemons, pistachios, and tomatoes, from a grocery market. Again he was captured on surveillance video. When police went to his home, they discovered he had stolen 3,000 more books. That might seem insignificant compared to the previous theft, but this time he was sentenced as a repeat offender. That landed the now 41-year-old book thief back in prison for another 4 years. He won't be able to resume his trade until he is 45.

Rare Book Monthly

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