Some of the most valuable artifacts stolen by convicted art and antiques thief John Mark Tillman were among the 600 or so items returned to Dalhousie University Thursday.
In September, the Halifax-area man pleaded guilty to 40 charges, including theft, fraud and possession of stolen goods after police seized 1,600 artifacts that he had stolen from museums, galleries, universities and antique stores across Atlantic Canada.
Tillman was sentenced to nine years for his crimes, but got a year's credit for the months he spent in jail since his arrest in January 2013.
One of the 600 items returned to Dalhousie on Thursday was a letter, written by former U.S. president George Washington, that is worth an estimated $100,000. The letter was written before Washington became president, while he was the commanding general of the Continental Army. It was written to dispatch a man to Nova Scotia to spy on British forces in Halifax.
General Wolfe letter returned
Another letter, one written by General James Wolfe in 1758, was also returned to the university's library. The Wolfe letter led to Tillman’s capture.
During a roadside stop in July 2012, Halifax Regional Police Const. Kristen Bradley saw the Wolfe letter sitting in plain sight in Tillman's vehicle, along with a cheque for $1,500.
"It's neat. I guess that's the best word I can say. It's neat knowing something like this came from a traffic stop," Const. Bradley said.
"Simple as that, just a traffic stop and where the document was and here we are today."
Other items returned to the university include a series of books, Birds of America, written and illustrated by famed naturalist and ornithologist James Audubon. Audubon had sent the books to his friend Thomas McCulloch, who was once the president of Dalhousie University.
RCMP Const. Darryl Morgan, lead investigator on the Tillman case, said one of the birds in the books reminds him of Tillman.
"It has a picture of a buzzard who does some picking — and Mr. Tillman has certainly been doing some picking when it comes to the antique world around here," he said.
"He was a bit of a picker and that's what buzzards do, they pick the carcass things until there's nothing left but the bones."
Another item returned to Dalhousie University on Thursday was an Audubon print of warblers that was stolen from the university’s biology department. Police say Tillman disguised himself as a painter, wearing coveralls and had a paintbrush hanging out of his pocket. He took the print off the wall and walked out the door.
Police suspect there may be even more items belonging to Dalhousie in their evidence lockers.
After pleading guilty in September, Tillman agreed to forfeit everything — his house, his bank account worth more than $300,000 and everything he stole over a lengthy criminal career.