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Closing the Book on Library Thefts

Authorities say an 85-year-old Simi Valley man stole 3,500 items. Sentencing is today.

November 12, 2002|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Every week for more than a decade, 85-year-old Ernest Heyneman drove to one of his favorite libraries and spent hours reading or culling the stacks for information on health and fitness, music and classic television shows.

The longtime Simi Valley resident, a retired movie studio employee, always had a pleasant smile and a kind word for librarians and took great care to return his borrowed items on time.

Then, authorities say, he would return to the library and steal them.

When police showed up at his historic hilltop ranch house on Heyneman Lane, they were startled by what they found: a well-stocked reading room containing more than 3,500 items from the Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley libraries.

"We found 124 boxes of library materials, but the house was tidy," said Ventura County Sheriff's Det. Kevin Vaden. "There were books, audiotapes, videotapes and compact discs." Most were in cardboard boxes stacked high in two closets and in Heyneman's office in the back of his sprawling home.

Some of the items deputies found at his home during the search included the book "All I Need To Know I Learned From Watching Star Trek," the video "Milton Berle's Low Impact Fitness for People Over 50" and the compact disc "Puerto Rican Music in Hawaii."

"He had very eclectic tastes,'' Vaden said.

"He really liked the health-related stuff and some fiction," said Dale Redfield, supervisor at the Simi Valley Library.

"I think he even accrued three copies of 'The English Patient' audiotape, which who knows why, because it wasn't that good of a book to begin with."

"The surprise was the amount of items that were there," Vaden said. "I don't think anyone anticipated that."

If police were startled by the amount he had stolen, so, too, was Heyneman, Vaden said. "He seemed unsure that he had done all this. He kept asking if he had done it. But since we were asking him about it, he said he may have done it."

The raid was last December. The next month, Heyneman turned himself in, and in September, he pleaded no contest to one count of burglary. Today, prosecutors are expected to ask a Ventura County Superior Court judge to ban him from all county libraries for up to five years.

The thefts might have gone undetected had a library worker not realized what some 150 items missing from the Thousand Oaks library had in common -- all had last been checked out by the 85-year-old man with the gentle mien and hazel eyes.

"We were all dismayed because he was such a pleasant person, and it's such a huge theft," said Nancy Sevier, who runs the Thousand Oaks library. "I mean this was big, very large scale. I never heard of anything like it."

"It's so unusual for someone in that age group to be committing a felony offense," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Audrey Rohn. "This is not the kind of thing we see on a regular basis."

Although Heyneman and his attorney both declined to comment, librarians and others say Heyneman is a true book lover who lost control. Rohn said that Heyneman told authorities he "really likes books."

Over several years, Heyneman would check out books, videos and audiotapes from the libraries, take them home and remove their security strips before returning them.

After he returned the items, and they were put back on the shelves, Heyneman would go back and smuggle out the desensitized materials without setting off any alarms.

In all, authorities believe that Heyneman walked out of the libraries with $26,000 worth of materials. About 3,000 items were from the Thousand Oaks branch and some 500 came from Simi Valley.

Pending sentencing, Heyneman has spent much of his time at the home that he and his wife, Emma, have shared for 30 years. The estate--with its curvy half-mile driveway and indoor pool--was once a summer retreat for early area settler Charles F. Blackstock, a county judge who lived in Oxnard.

"They were very gracious people," Simi Valley resident Gloria Dubois said of the Heynemans.

Dubois, a city engineer who grew up in the area and went to school down the street, said she was invited into the couple's home for tea a few years ago.

"It's funny. I don't remember seeing many books," she said.

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