The Nov. 30 murder of secondhand book dealer Sherry Black remains unsolved with no new leads, according to South Salt Lake Police Department. Her tragic death reminded me of the strange world of pickers who often ply their trade at stores like hers.
Black, who was Utah Jazz CEO's Greg Miller's mother-in-law, and her husband owned a secondhand book and billiards store called B & W Billiards and Books on 700 East and 3466 South. It's a small, quirky store with billiard cues lining the wall, set back from the road in a small, wooded grove. Black was found stabbed to death in the store on Nov. 30, 2010. A recent Deseret News story highlighted an alleged juggalo follower of the Insane Clown Posse, who sold Black several rare Mormon books belonging to his polygamist father.
I interviewed Black several years ago for a story called Ripped Off. The cover story charted Randy Holladay's quest to retrieve some of his beloved Mormon artifacts and artwork following an unidentified gang breakin into his 9th and 9th home.
Holladay found pieces of his collection at several art and secondhand dealers, including Black's store. She had bought nine 1890s cabinet cards from one-time antique dealer, picker, forger and meth addict Kory Lloyd, for $50, she told police, although the cards were valued at $1,000 according to court documents. "People come in who are drug addicts," she said. "You can identify them." Lloyd, she acknowledged, was a step above the typical methhead or drug addict who came into her store to try and sell stolen goods.
The more traditional source of artifacts, rare books and art work for antique dealers and their ilk are the curious breed of men and women known as pickers. They haunt thrift stores and estate sales, grabbing anything they can in order to sell it on the internet or, if it has some value, to dealers like Black. Some critics argue the line between pickers and thieves searching for material to pawn or sell can often get blurred, as it did allegedly in the case of Lloyd, who knows Salt Lake City's art world intimately, having dealt at one time or another with most of its antique dealers, museums and collectors.
When I talked to Black, she lamented the use of internet-connected scanners by pickers to assess the value of books they found. "You don't need scanners," she said. "They ignore a hardback of a novel for a paperback, passing over a signed first edition," in their quest for dozens of paperbacks they can sell for a few bucks on the web.
Black was a feisty woman who said she questioned people when they came in to sell her things. She said she tipped off the cops about Lloyd's girlfriend trying to sell questionable material to her. The check she wrote Lloyd was, she said, "part of the evidence used against him."
Whoever killed Sherry Black, my impression from reporting those months in 2007 on the collision between the world of Randy Holladay and men such as Kory Lloyd, was that in some cases dealers would turn a blind eye to who they were buying from when they saw what the seller was offering. Holladay for a while shone a light on the unsavory underbelly of that world; Black's murder tragically revives that light to some extent, if with an even sadder, blood-stained hue.