A former part-time Van Pelt Library employee who claims to suffer from multiple personalties was found guilty Friday of stealing almost $1.8 million worth of rare books and documents from the library. Common Pleas Court Judge Russell Nigro found Kathleen Wilkerson, 34, of the 3900 block of Chesnut Street, guilty of theft and tampering with records after she entered a no contest plea. She will be sentenced in January. Wilkerson remains free on bail and faces a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and $15,000 in fines. Her lawyer, Dennis Eisman, said yesterday that his client pled no contest because she suffers from multiple personalities and does not remember stealing the books. "She is not denying that she took them," Eisman said. "She would do things in one personality and not remember them in another." Eisman said that Wilkerson, who attended Bryn Mawr College as an undergraduate and received a master's degree in English from the University, has suffered from the mental illness since childhood and has been repeatedly hospitized for the disorder. The defense lawyer said that he will ask the judge to give his client a light sentence because "jail . . . will kill her." Wilkerson was so upset by her arrest that she had to be hosptalized, Eisman added. "It's a very tragic situation," Eisman said. "If it wasn't for her mental illness this would not have happened." In February, police and FBI agents were led to Wilkerson's West Philadelphia appartment after a book dealer from Baltimore reported seeing a 379-year-old copy of Shakespeare's Hamlet from the University's collection -- valued at more than $1 million -- in a Center City book shop. Prosecutors said that between August 1989 and February 1990, Wilkerson made six visits to the shop, Buaman Rare Books, attempting to sell 61 stolen volumes. After receiving the tip, police recovered 19 of the University's rare books valued at $1.5 million from the bookstore, where they were being evaluated. They then obtained a search warrant for Wilkerson's apartment. Daniel Traister, assistant library director for special collections, accompanied the police to Wilkerson's appartment where he found 101 more rare books from the University's collection scattered on the floor and sitting on Wilkerson's bookshelves. "Some of them had their spines broken," Traister said. "It doesn't damage the intellectual content of the book, but it damages its value as an object for resale." Wilkerson, who worked in the Van Pelt Rare Book Room for more than eight years, began stealing books from the University's collection in 1985, giving them as gifts to her friends and relatives, according to Traister. "It's very easy to be generous that way," he said. The thefts were not immediately discovered because Wilkerson altered and stole University records to cover up her thefts, Traister added. He said he does not believe all of the books stolen by Wilkerson have been recovered, but added that the most valuable ones have been returned. Security in the Rare Book Room has been tightened since Wilkerson's thefts were discovered. "There has been increased emphasis on identification and registration of readers and there have been internal procedural amendments, which I can't really comment on," Traister said. "We try to balance security with the realities of the University library's service-oriented environment."Comments powered by Disqus
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