True crime story on feathers’ theft en­gross­ing read

Horowhenua Chronicle - - LOCALCLASSIFIEDS - Mar­garet Reilly

The Feather Thief By Kirk Wal­lace John­son, Hutchin­son, $38 .. .. ..

In June 2009 Ed­win Rist made off with 299 stuffed birds from the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in Tring, Eng­land, at a con­ser­va­tive value of £1 mil­lion.

Rist was a 20-year-old Amer­i­can mu­sic stu­dent at the Royal So­ci­ety of Mu­sic in Lon­don. His am­bi­tion was to play prin­ci­pal flautist for the Berlin Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra.

Ed­win Rist was home­schooled as a young boy. When one day he saw a demon­stra­tion on tele­vi­sion about fly ty­ing he was in­stantly cap­ti­vated and both mu­sic and fly ty­ing be­came an ob­ses­sion. Much later, when his par­ents were not forth­com­ing with money for a new flute, Rist had an idea. What bet­ter way of mak­ing money than to steal rare birds, dis­man­tle them and sell to fel­low fly tiers. Af­ter much care­ful plan­ning this is ex­actly what he did.

The guard on duty at the time of the heist was too in­volved in a match on TV to look at his cam­eras. The win­dow Rist broke and en­tered by was not no­ticed for nearly a month. The stolen birds were not no­ticed un­til a vis­it­ing cu­ra­tor re­quested a view­ing. When the break-in was dis­cov­ered the mu­seum re­alised they had been rather re­miss in their cus­to­dian du­ties and did not want pub­lic­ity. There was no ar­rest.

For a while Rist was sell­ing through eBay and made a con­sid­er­able amount of money.

It was much later when a re­tired de­tec­tive who had taken to trout fish­ing to al­le­vi­ate his stress lev­els at­tended a fly ty­ing sym­po­sium.

He asked where th­ese rare feathers had come from. He was given Rist’s eBay ad­dress. Some­thing clicked and he alerted the Here­ford­shire Con­stab­u­lary. Rist’s apart­ment was searched. Boxes of skins and feathers in kli­ploc bags were enough ev­i­dence and DNA taken from blood found at the crime scene at the time was enough for a con­vic­tion.

This re­ally is only the be­gin­ning of the story. The au­thor, Kirk Wal­lace John­ston, pre­vi­ously in­volved with Iraq and the af­ter­math work­ing with refugees and con­tin­u­ally fight­ing with bu­reau­cracy, had taken up trout fish­ing to cope with his stress. While mak­ing his flies he heard the story of Ed­win Rist, now a sort of shady fig­ure sell­ing to peo­ple ob­sessed with fly ty­ing and not even fish­ing.

He had no ex­pe­ri­ence as a de­tec­tive or catch­ing crim­i­nals but he be­came fix­ated on Rist’s story and in the in­ter­est of sci­ence and jus­tice de­ter­mined to fol­low this story through and write the book.

This book is metic­u­lously re­searched. Prim­i­tive so­ci­eties have hunted rare birds to ex­tinc­tion. Last cen­tury the fash­ion in­dus­try was lam­basted for their use of feathers and to­day John­son has ex­posed an­other threat, un­less care­fully mon­i­tored, to bird life.

This is a true crime story. It is a story of ab­so­lute greed and how scru­ples can eas­ily be put aside when you are nei­ther the vic­tim or the per­pe­tra­tor, but ben­e­fit along the way.

If any­body had ever told me I would spend the greater part of three wet days with my head in a book about a crime in­volv­ing fly ty­ing and the an­tics, for want of a bet­ter word, I would not have be­lieved them. The Feather Thief was com­pelling read­ing and when I reached the end I wanted to write to Kirk Wal­lace John­ston and say “good on you Kirk. In the name of jus­tice and sci­ence you did what you could.”

This is a true crime story. It is a story of ab­so­lute greed and how scru­ples can eas­ily be put aside.

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