Canadian Security Magazine

Wealthy Nova Scotia thief filled home with pilfered artifacts, art

By The Canadian Press   

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HALIFAX — A man who filled his suburban lakeside home with historic artifacts and art stolen over decades of pilfering so stealthy that many of his targets didn't even know they'd been victimized has died.

John Mark Tillmann was 57.

The wealthy Tillmann — he owned both a Porsche and BMW — stole from universities, libraries, museums, antique dealers and private collections across Atlantic Canada.

Among about 1,300 items seized by police from his two-storey home in Fall River, north of Halifax: Early editions of Daniel Defoe’s 1719 classic “Robinson Crusoe” and a 1758 letter written by Gen. James Wolfe.

There was also a spear. A gas mask. A glass lantern. A model canoe. Paintings depicting centuries-old scenes. A brass telescope. An 1819 watercolour from Nova Scotia’s legislative library.


Many of the institutions weren’t even aware the items had been stolen.

Tillmann was caught when RCMP pulled him over in a July 2012 traffic stop and found the Wolfe letter, which the British general had written to an uncle in Dublin.

It had disappeared from Dalhousie University’s archives years earlier.

Dalhousie archivist Mike Moosberger said they realized the letter was missing after a 2009 inventory, but no one knew whether it had been stolen or merely misplaced. Similar Wolfe letters have fetched US$18,000 at auction, he said.

The letter was returned to Dalhousie after Tillmann’s arrest, but it had been torn and was missing some writing.

Moosberger refused to comment Thursday on Tillmann’s death, other than to note “enhanced security protocols … have been put in place” since the theft.

“Beyond that, I don’t believe there is anything else to say,” he said.

Tillmann died two days before Christmas in Musquodoboit Harbour, according to a certificate of death obtained by CTV, which first reported the story of the infamous art thief’s death this week.

Tillmann had been charged with trying to kill his mother in 2009, and also served a two-year sentence for extorting, assaulting and threatening an ex-girlfriend. Media reports have also documented a history of racism and anti-Semitism.

But it was the art and artifact thefts that drew the most attention to Tillmann.

When he was arrested, police held a show and tell of the seized items. Cpl. Scott MacRae said officers found a trove of artifacts worth well over $500,000 in a home that had been turned into a veritable museum.

“When we first arrived, it was almost set up to be on display,” MacRae said at the time.

“Lots of the items were from antique dealers, so there’s historic value. There’s value to personal collections, universities and just people in general in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.”

At the time, police worked with authorities in the United States to determine whether some items had been sold, including a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”

In 2013, Tillmann pleaded guilty to 40 charges and was sentenced in Nova Scotia Supreme Court to nine years in prison.

Tillmann was also ordered to forfeit his home — valued at between $400,000 and $700,000 — and all of its contents including the two luxury cars, as well as $300,000 in his bank account.

He was granted parole in 2016.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2019

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