It’s probably the most notorious comic book heist ever. In 2000, high grade copies of Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 were stolen from Nicolas Cage‘s home. Cage, a well-known comic book fan and at the time the owner of a jaw-dropping vintage comic book collection, was extremely disheartened by the theft and subsequently sold his entire collection with Heritage Auctions. The announcement of the sale became infamous late night talk show and gossip mag fodder because Cage married Lisa Marie Presley just days after announcing that he was selling his comic books.
According to the Ventura County Star, Cage’s Action Comics #1 was recovered by the Los Angeles Police last month from a San Fernando Valley Storage Locker.
It remained missing for more than 10 years until last month when a man found it in a San Fernando Valley storage locker, said Balelo, who owns Balelo Inc., a liquidation merchandise business in Simi Valley. The man had bought the locker’s contents through Riverside-based American Auctioneers.
Not sure of its worth, the man, who did not want to be identified for this story, turned to American Auctioneers co-owner Dan Dotson. Dotson, in turn, arranged a meeting April 3 between the man and Balelo.
“Dan is a good friend of mine,” Balelo said. “And he knows I’m very much into collectibles.”
Balelo said the man brought the comic book to the meeting. Balelo took photographs of it and emailed them to New York comic book dealer Stephen Fishler, who sold the copy of Action Comics #1 to Cage.
Balelo said he knows the man who found the comic book only as Sylvester. When contacted by The Star, the man refused to give his last name.
Hrycyk also refused to identify him.
Is he a suspect?
“I don’t know,” Hrycyk said. “I don’t know enough about it yet. I don’t want to prejudge anybody. It’s just too bad that Balelo with his big mouth thought it was necessary to contact the media” about the comic book.
Balelo said with a laugh that after all the time and trouble he went through trying to do the right thing without making a dime, “at least let me get some recognition.”
Stephen Fishler, the comic book dealer who sold Cage the Action Comics #1 and much of the rest of his collection, flew out last week to authenticate the book, according to the Star. Fishler, whose comicconnect.com has sold an Action Comics #1 for $1.5 million last year and a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 (first appearance of Spider-Man) for $1.1 million last month, could not comment on the ongoing police investigation.
But he did go on the record in detail about the original particulars of the theft in 2006 on the Collector’s Society message board, in an effort to flush out information on another comic stolen during the incident:
In 2000, Nicolas Cage called me, slightly frantic and quite upset that 3 comic books had been stolen from his house in Los Angeles. I asked him if the police had been contacted and he informed me that they had not. I immediately placed a call to the L.A. police who arrived on the scene within 20 minutes.
Here are the facts:
3 books- A VF Action Comics #1 (unrestored), a VF Detective #27 (unrestored except for a tiny sealed tear on the back cover/sold in the 1992 Sotheby’s auction) and a 3rd book that I will not disclose for the time being, were missing. These books had been placed in high security frames on a wall. Those frames were now empty. However, it was nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly when the potential theft occurred. Mr. Cage had a party at his house the week before. It could have happened then. It is also possible that it had could have happened prior to the party. There was no way to know for sure.
A number of household employees were interviewed about the theft. Unfortunately, nothing of substance had come from those interviews.
Several weeks later, I spent a number of hours combing through the house in the hope that the books were somehow still in the house. Misplaced? Hidden by a thief in an out of the way location with the notion of retrieving them at a later date. I came up empty. The books had fallen off the face of the earth.
In, 2000, I had spent considerable time quietly contacting comic book stores in the L.A. area in the hope that the books would be sold for some quick cash. Several days after the initial report of the theft, a store owner in the L.A. area informed me that he had recently received a phone call requesting pricing information for Action #1 and Detective #27. I was very hopeful that this tip would lead to a potential recovery of the stolen books but unfortunately, the store owner received no further phone calls. However, I was not discouraged in that I knew that the books were out there – somewhere.
Several months later, there was a another break. On ebay, I spotted an auction for the D copy of Marvel Mystery #71 in a CGC holder. The same Marvel #71 that I had sold to Cage two years earlier. I contacted Nick abouthe book but unfortunately he was out of the country at the time. I emailed the ebay seller with questions regarding the book but received no response. One week later, I found out that a good friend of mine had purchased the Marvel #71 from the seller on ebay. That transaction had been done in person and was completed in cash. Thankfully, I was able to secure the name and address of the ebay seller. Left a phone message for the seller and again,did not receive a response.
And indeed, it turned out that Nick’s Marvel #71 was missing. With the Action #1 and Detective #27 in the spotlight, the fact that the Marvel #71 was missing had just been overlooked. Why someone would also take the #71 is anybody’s guess.
I handed over the information to Nick’s people who assured me that they would take it from there. To be honest, I feel they dropped the ball. For some reason, they did not want to get the police involved. They contacted the seller of the Marvel #71, a person living in CT, and received a legal letter in return claiming harassment. Because they could not connect the person in CT to a person who had access to Nick’s house, they just seemed to let the matter drop. It was infuriating for me to watch all this transpire, but at the end of the day it was not my book and it was not my investigation.
The loss of the books was upsetting to Nicolas Cage. Extremely upsetting. And it was something that he has never gotten over.
It was my opinion that the person who sold the Marvel #71 had information about the Action #1 and Detective #27. If I had any doubt about this, that doubt ended when I found out the following: The seller of the Marvel #71, the same person who submitted the book to CGC, the same person whom I had contacted with “questions”, apparently franticly contacted CGC, asking questions about their confidentiality policies. Fearful that they would release his name to “outside parties”. This occurred shortly after I had had left my first message with CT ebay seller.
I had not released the information earlier in the hope that these books would “somehow” find their way back on to the comic book market. A thief, unaware that the books had been reported stolen might try to sell them looking for a quick payday. I am now taking a different tactic in the hopes that someone out there “knows something.”
If someone reading this thread feels that they have information regarding these stolen books, I ask you that you PM me. Do not post that information. All tips will be kept completely confidential.
It would appear the picture used by the Ventura County Star is not the actual Cage copy, but rather a scan of the Kansas City copy which sold for $1 million last year. The copy which appears in the LAPD’s stolen art database, has been assumed by many to be the Cage copy. Given Fishler’s unrestored VF description, the copy would be very comparable to the best copies on the market recently, and might possibly go for over $1 million in today’s market.
The LAPD database also contains a high grade Detective Comics #27, possibly the copy stolen from Cage as well. Have you seen this comic? Contact LAPD Art Theft Detail at 213-485-2524.