There are only four keys to the lock protecting a half-million dollars worth of comic books housed in Florida State University’s Strozier Library.
Todd Peak, the library’s head of security, had access to one of them.
Peak, 38, was arrested by FSU Police on Friday on charges that, in 2020, he stole nearly 5,000 comics from the Robert M. Ervin Jr. Collection. Throughout the next two years, police said, he sold them to private buyers and comic book stores throughout the area.
What was stolen: Read the list of missing items (PDF)
Peak, who lives in Crawfordville, is charged with grand theft of more than $100,000, fraud, dealing in stolen property and sale of stolen property using the internet, according to court records.
He was released on bail Saturday afternoon. His defense attorney was not yet listed in court records. A request for comment was sent to FSU early Monday.
In all, 4,996 items were missing from the collection that consists of comic books and serials on superheroes, science fiction, fantasy and horror. Over 1,200 serial titles are represented, predominantly from the 1950s through the 1970s. Publications include those by Marvel Comics, DC Comics, underground publishers, foreign language titles and pulp magazines.
Police have been able to recover 2,843 comics from the missing collection.
After the thefts, Peak trafficked in online forums and the backroom at a Crawfordville comics shop where he allegedly sold the stolen items, according to an arrest report.
Suspicions that Peak was selling stolen goods began to mount when buyers noticed he possessed not only rare comics, but those listed as missing from FSU’s Special Collections & Archives housed in the sub-basement of the university’s main library, the report said.
The collection was donated by the late prominent Tallahassee attorney, Robert M. Ervin Sr., and his late wife, Frances Anne, in 1981. It was named for his son, Robert M. Ervin Jr., who continues to practice law in Tallahassee.
They are kept behind a chain link fence protected by a padlock. It is unclear through police reports how Peak removed the comics, but investigators noted that Peak has one of the four keys.
Investigators spoke with several people who bought comics from Peak, including the owners of Wilde Comics and Gaming in Crawfordville.
In June 2020, Peak sold thousands of dollars worth of comics to the shop, according to arrest records.
He’d advertised in a comics-related Facebook page that he was looking to downsize his collection. Through messages, Peak provided photos of comics — listed as missing from the special collection — that included a rare German copy of Mickey Mouse and several rare issues of Batman.
The owners of the Crawfordville shop, who obtained a list of all the stolen comics, became suspicious of Peak who said to “be on the lookout for ‘rare books,’ ” according to records.
“It is too great of a coincidence that Peak works at Strozier Library where the comic books were stolen and just so happened to possess all the same comic books listed as stolen,” the owners of Wilde Comics told investigators.
Police began to recover comics they believed were part of the stolen collection. At least one comic recovered had “Bobby Ervin” written on the inside cover.
Police also found multiple Facebook messages between Peak and buyers of the rare comics in which he negotiates their sales.
Katie McCormick, the associate dean of libraries for special collections, told investigators that shortly after the theft Peak asked her to review the inventory sheet for the collection. She found that odd, she told police.
In a text, he offered to help with the inventory of the remaining comics, not something generally associated with his job.
Investigators also learned Peak had 14 comics graded through a company that reviews the condition and potential value of collectables.
Police received the Google search history of Peak through a subpoena. What they found was that between April 2020 and January 2021, Peak made 448 searches for information about the books stolen from FSU, often seeking information about their value.
Contact Karl Etters at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Man charged with theft of thousands of rare comics from FSU library