PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland man had his comic and book collection worth millions of dollars stolen right after his death in early August, a crime now being investigated by the FBI.
Neighbors found James Strand deceased from natural causes in his Lents neighborhood home on August 3, 2023, shortly before his 88th birthday.
According to niece and next of kin, Susie Hasty, even though her uncle was known to be reclusive, he would talk to a few friends about his collection if he knew they were also interested in rare, first edition comics and books. Although not even his best friend knew of the vast collection in his home.
“It’s a fairly renowned collection for somebody here in our backyard in Portland,” Special Agent in Charge of Oregon FBI Kieran Ramsey said. “Some very adept citizens noticed that these things were now trying to be sold here in Portland or online, reached out to the FBI and got us involved to say, ‘Hey, this stuff’s out there and we know he passed away recently.'”
“It was just his personal joy, I think,” Hasty told KOIN 6 News. “I am just heartbroken because of the disrespect that’s being done to what I know now is his life’s work and his life passion.”
When Hasty received the phone call notifying her of his death, she was out of state and was unable return to Portland until August 11. But she rushed from the airport straight to the house and found it in disarray.
“It was obvious that the front door had been broken into the glass had been kicked in the door,” recalled Hasty. “The police had locked the door and boarded up the back door. But the locks had all been knocked off and the door was open. And the house was just a mess, and that’s really putting it mildly. It was just ransacked and there was stuff everywhere.”
But it wasn’t until she was contacted by bookseller Scott Brown, owner of Downtown Brown Books, that she realized the true worth of the stolen collection.
“He said, ‘You don’t know who I am, and I don’t know if you know it or not, but your uncle had quite a collection of books and they were probably worth millions,'” Hasty said. “I would not even know anything. I would have known he collected a lot of books and that that’d be all I would know. But Scott has been just a godsend.”
By this point, Brown had notified the FBI, who he’d worked with on a similar case. Currently, authorities estimate that 10% of the missing collection has been recovered, with even booksellers from across the country contributing to the effort.
“We’re talking lots of things out there, including very rare manuscripts, first edition books, other unique artwork and things like that,” said Oregon’s FBI Special Agent in Charge Kieran Ramsey. “It’s going to take us a while to be able to not only recover them, but properly assess the value of everything and put it all together.”
But he did say the “value of this collection is estimated to be around $2 million. We actually probably think it’s going to be higher than that. Some of the examples that we have here today, you know, this comic itself is supposed to be priceless. Essentially, they can’t give us a value for it.”
“I think the main thing is it’s just a tragedy in a way,” Hasty noted. “But there is goodness coming out of it. And it’s the community that I’ve discovered and it’s just every day something unfolds.”
“Just thinking of Jim,” she continued. “I’m just trying to do the best I can to preserve his legacy and honor him.”
If you discover any illegitimately sold items from this collection locally or online, you’re asked to contact the Oregon branch of the FBI.