Ripped Off 

Randy Holladay’s search for his stolen Mormon artifacts thrust him into Salt Lake City’s meth underworld.

click to enlarge art10660widea.jpg
"Oh my,” Randy Holladay said as he gingerly picked through the wreckage of his living room in his tree-shrouded house in Salt Lake City’s 9th & 9th neighborhood.

He’d been visiting his brother in Tucson, Ariz. when a friend called to tell him he’d been burgled. Pillaged was a better word—at least if the devastation of overturned sofas, emptied drawers, muddy footprints, a woman’s pair of shoes tangled up in his sheets and empty wine bottles was anything to go by.

Within 10 minutes, 66-year-old Holladay knew “this was no ordinary set of thieves.” In the last week of February 2008, someone had carefully gone through all his possessions. Paintings and drawings were precisely removed from their frames. There were two techniques used, he decided, “one very surgical, the other ransacked.”

If thieves had taken his computer, stereo or TV, it would have been inconvenient, but he would have gotten over it. Those items remained untouched. Instead, along with paintings, etchings, lithographs, a 1938 Winchester rifle and valuable rugs, several hundred family photographs were lifted. Among them were acid-proof sleeve-protected photographs of Mormon relatives dating back five generations, fading images of his family’s past. “They were tangible representations of people who are no longer on this Earth, who passed life on to me,” says self-appointed family historian and archivist Holladay. Such photographs are in high demand at Utah’s antique stores. “They go faster than anything else,” he says.

At first, all Holladay wanted to do was crawl into bed and hide under the covers. Then, he thought, “Being pro-active would be more productive than waiting for a white knight in the form of police to help me.”

He says he’s read enough New Yorker articles to have little expectation of under-resourced, overworked cops solving his crime. The Salt Lake City Police Department declined to comment on his case. Spokeswoman Lara Jones acknowledged that property crime inevitably has a lower priority than violent crimes. In 2007, nine burglary detectives handled 1,300 cases each. “To reduce that ratio would take significant financial support from taxpayers,” Jones wrote in a fax sent to City Weekly.

For Holladay, though, the robbery last winter was an assault on everything he held dear. So he went from store to store in Salt Lake City’s tight-knit antiques community, interviewing owners. Holladay says his quest led him to the “the sordid underbelly of this city’s antiques world.” He encountered “pickers” whose lives are dedicated to the endless search of thrift stores and yard sales for that undiscovered masterpiece lurking against a wall with a $5 tag. Holladay shone a piercing light into this murky world that revealed both how some antique dealers can turn a blind eye to what they buy off the street as well as the desultory lives of meth addicts who feed their habits by selling stolen property to dealers.

The retired carpenter’s sleuthing led police to arrest one of the best-known high-end antique dealers in Salt Lake City, Anthony Christensen of Anthony’s Fine Arts and Antiques, along with what several dealers agree is this city’s most well-known picker, John Pilcher. Both were charged with receipt of stolen property. Holladay, along with another burglary victim, also helped police identify a loose-knit group of six people, most of them felons and meth abusers, who were named in connection with a string of “antique burglaries” in a Salt Lake City Police Department press release trumpeting Christensen’s bust on May 20 this year. While one suspect later pleaded guilty, charges against Christensen and three others linked to the burglaries were dismissed. Two other suspects have yet to appear in court.

ON THE LAM
Holladay’s adventures in the do-it-yourself detective trade bore him little fruit. He recovered only eight items out of many hundreds lost. What he was left with, along with a home gutted of his prized possessions, were a series of haunting questions. Why had the burglars targeted his home? Who had directed the precise ransacking of his artwork and Mormon memorabilia? Most of all, he wanted to know where his ancestors’ photographs ended up.

Holladay, a shy man with a professorial air that belies a stern will, believed Gerald Kory Lloyd could answer those questions. Lloyd, a 46-year-old picker, one-time antique-store owner, self-educated art historian, meth addict and felon, was among those picked up by the cops, due in large part to Holladay’s tenacity, in connection with the burglaries. Unlike other meth users linked to this case, Lloyd’s history in antiques and art led Holladay to ponder if he was behind the “surgical ransacking” of his home. Holladay learned Lloyd sold a few of his possessions to two dealers and also one of his paintings to Pilcher. Lloyd, however, would be hard to get ahold of; he was on the run from police after skipping an arraignment on a charge of receiving stolen property. If City Weekly found Lloyd, Holladay said, he “would like to know where my treasured photos went.”

Eventually, City Weekly did find Lloyd. He agreed to meet at a downtown restaurant parking lot. The wanted man answered questions, until a passing cop on a bike spooked him away.

Lloyd’s responses still left Holladay pondering his involvement in the burglary. But Lloyd did offer a faint sliver of hope for the photographs.

Whether burglars chose Holladay’s house because of its owner’s art and LDS artifact collection or for other reasons, his brother Tom Holladay, a retired U.S. consul-general, believes he sowed the seeds of his own tragedy. “You tried to get above yourself by collecting artwork,” Holladay recalls his brother telling him. “We’re not highborn.”

But Randy Holladay says he’s less an art collector than “an historian at heart.” His idea, he says, was “to write a family history.” The robbery “took the wind out of my sails,” his “time capsule” of photographs and Mormon memorabilia now likely blown to the four winds of the Utah meth community.

“Without a personal police force and a castle,” Holladay says, “you can’t protect anything.”

STORMY WEATHER
The first store in which Holladay found remnants of his past was Decades, at 627 S. State. It’s more a vintage-clothing store than an antique store. Owner Justin Ferguson had Holladay’s great-grandmother’s stereoscope, a 3-dimensional viewer, for sale, along with several other of Holladay’s possessions. Among those objects was a cloisonné jar 3rd District Court charging documents allege Gerald Kory Lloyd sold to Ferguson, who was not charged with any crime. Upon learning the stereoscope and the other items were stolen, Ferguson gave them back to Holladay.

Ferguson says Lloyd is a familiar face in the antiques trade, going back decades to when Lloyd had his own Salt Lake City store. That store, Lloyd says, ended up a “dope factory,” and he lost it.

The stereoscope was one fragile remnant of Holladay’s family history. “It belonged to someone who supported her three children and their mother on $3 a week as a cook in mining camps on the Arizona frontier,” Holladay says.

Holladay grew up the oldest of six boys outside Tucson, Ariz., surrounded by Mormon farmers and cotton fields. After graduating from the University of Utah in 1972, he worked as a curator at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts under its founder, the late Frank Sanquinetti. He says he quit state work in 1982 to tend his ill father. His father had been in the building trade. Holladay followed suit, remodeling homes. He retired two years ago. The artwork he says he’s collected over the years from yard sales, estate sales and trading with friends, would be part of his nest egg. Now, all he has is his house.

At the end of his first day of questioning antique-store owners, on March 7, Holladay was exhausted and wanted to go home. But he forced himself to climb the stone steps of the gloomily gothic building on the corner of 200 South and 400 East—Anthony’s Fine Art and Antiques.

“I really hesitated about going into Christensen’s because I thought they would be dismissive of me,” Holladay says. “He has a reputation of being haughty.” Nevertheless, he went in. It was like “crawling into the Vatican and asking for a favor, hat in hand,” Holladay says. Christensen’s assistant looked at the list and shook his head. Half an hour after Holladay got home, Christensen’s assistant telephoned him. Anthony’s had one of his paintings, “Approaching Storm,” by early Utah realist painter Edwin Evans.

After calling the Salt Lake City Police burglary division and the police dispatcher and waiting two hours for a response, Holladay returned to Anthony’s, where Christensen’s assistant handed him the painting, according to court charging documents. As he ran down the steps to his battered truck in the pouring rain, the painting under his arm, Holladay felt almost giddy. Finally, “I’d actually found something.”

PICKER HEAVEN
Some storeowners weren’t as obliging as Anthony’s. The next morning, Holladay showed Dee Jackman of Jitterbug Antiques, at 243 E. 300 South, his stolen possessions list. Jackman shook his head and handed it back. Holladay looked down and saw his antique red toy truck. Jackman was decidedly unsympathetic. “He said, ‘Prove it’s yours; you can’t prove it,’” Holladay recalls. On a notebook Jackman kept on the counter were the names of two men who sold him the toy truck, Holladay says. Both were later charged in connection with crimes related to the alleged antique theft ring spree. One of them, felon Dennis Hobot, had printed the words ‘This is not stolen’ and signed it. Jackman declined to comment for this story. Holladay would eventually get the truck back, after police interceded. Jackman has not been charged with any crime.

Holladay’s luck continued to hold. After a lunch on March 10 with antique-store owner and Utah Mining Association lobbyist David Litvin, who, early on, according to Holladay, advised him on his search, Holladay received a call from a stranger, John Pilcher. Before his current legal problems, Pilcher could often be found at one of Salt Lake City’s Deseret Industries stores at 10 a.m. with other pickers waiting for the thrift store to open. Lloyd claims Pilcher is one of his main business associates. Pilcher declined interview requests through his lawyer, Steve Anderson.

On the phone, Pilcher, a former oil worker from Texas, told Holladay, “I think I have something of yours.” With the police, Holladay went to Pilcher’s Salt Lake County house. The place resembled a gaudy museum, every available wall space given over to gold-framed landscapes and expensive portraits perfectly lit in a seemingly dust-free house. Holladay retrieved a painting, a few prints and a piece of art pottery.

According to court documents, Pilcher told the police he had bought two of Holladay’s paintings in late February. One, “Approaching Storm,” Dennis Hobot sold to him. Third District Court documents state Pilcher paid $1,000 for the painting in a car trunk-to-trunk sale outside Sears on State Street. He then sold the painting to Christensen for $5,000, although he only asked for $3,000. According to Holladay, when Christensen later offered to sell the painting for Holladay, he told the retired carpenter he could net $30,000 after the store’s commission.

Hobot was a name Holladay recognized. On Dec. 6, 2007, at 8.30 a.m., Hobot and Shane Kennedy were identified from a photo lineup by an Avenues resident as two of three men witnessed removing valuable rugs from an Avenues neighborhood mansion and loading them into a car determined to be registered to Hobot’s longtime friend, Howard Price Johnson, a Utah-registered sex offender. Hobot has a lengthy rap sheet, including a guilty plea in 1998 to the exploitation of a disabled or elderly adult.

The other Holladay-owned painting Pilcher bought was from Lloyd, whose criminal history includes a 2006 drug-possession conviction along with several charges for running a meth lab.

Lloyd defies stereotypes of a seedy meth-head, as B&W Collector Books owner Sherry Black discovered to her cost. She bought nine of Holladay’s 1890s photographs from Lloyd. Lloyd claims those cards did not come from Holladay’s house. Court documents value them at more than $1,000, although Black says she paid only $50. After learning the pictures were stolen, Black returned them to Holladay. No charges were filed against Black.

Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of...

More by Stephen Dark

Latest in Cover Story

  • Rent a Cop

    Almost anyone can hire a local police officer for private use—gun, uniform, squad car and all
    • Sep 17, 2014
  • Invisible Man

    Why is the Utah prison system housing someone who robbed an Arkansas taco shop 33 years ago?
    • Aug 27, 2014
  • The Murderer's Mistress

    Gypsy Willis’ affair with a married doctor led her to scandal, jail and a role as a celebrity witness at his trial
    • Aug 20, 2014
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

© 2014 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation