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Embezzler's Elvis collection put on the block

A British woman stole a million dollars and spent much of it on her obsession with the King.

June 11, 2007|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

DERBY, ENGLAND — It has been a good long while, that is to say most likely forever, since the Uruguay pressing of Elvis Presley's "Loco por las Muchachas" went on sale in the British Midlands. Not to mention the official press packet from the opening of Graceland, the sheet music to "Old Shep" and enough Elvis mouse pads to click the King back from the grave.

Their presence in an auction house here Sunday was thanks to a former cashier at the North Kesteven District Council who prosecutors say amassed one of Britain's biggest Elvis memorabilia collections with more than $1.1 million she embezzled from city parking meter receipts.

Julie Wall, 47, who recently completed a three-year prison term, helped authorities sort and catalog her collection of more than 8,000 records, along with a roomful of cinema lobby cards, signed photographs, refrigerator magnets, concert tickets, mugs, baseball caps, fan magazines, key rings, coasters, Christmas cards and Las Vegas souvenir menus.

No one has been able to explain how Wall, a nearly 30-year government employee, was able to stash away up to $20,000 a month in automated parking lot receipts over a period of nine years, beginning in 1995, before being detected. Nor, for that matter, has anyone been able to say precisely why she spent nearly all of it on Elvis.

"She is a fan, clearly," said her lawyer, Simon Cobb. "In all other respects, she is a very nice lady and a very honest lady. But this took over her life. She said that she became completely obsessed with this collection -- she described it as an addiction."

At her trial, Wall was accused of underreporting collections from the pay-and-display parking machines and pocketing the difference. The shortfall was finally discovered during an external audit, and when confronted, Wall left work, checked into a hotel and attempted suicide.

With most of it stashed in the rafters of the small bungalow she shared with her parents, no one was aware of just how much Elvis memorabilia the cashier had accumulated.

"I don't think it was something she was necessarily showing off to people," said Anne Collins, spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CPS commissioned Sunday's auction in an attempt to recover the embezzled funds. The only other asset belonging to Wall was the old Vauxhall she drove, which also was sold.

The $220,000 raised fell short, in large part, authorities said, because Wall was more enthusiastic than calculating in making her acquisitions.

"Because she was stealing this money over a period of time, she was prepared to pay over the odds really for the things she was buying," Collins said. "It's a very big collection, but there isn't necessarily within it lots of items that are of a very high value."

"I'm a collector myself, but this is the strangest. It's beyond collection. This is an obsession," said Alan Judd, manager of the collectors department at Bamfords Ltd., the auctioneers.

Take "Heartbreak Hotel." There are pressings from Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Chile, Japan, India, Malaysia and South Africa.

There is also a set of old Sun Record sleeves and an original 78-rpm copy of "That's All Right," issued on Sun Records, which went for $4,200. Also on sale were an unused ticket for what would have been an Elvis concert on Aug. 19, 1977, had Presley not died on the 16th. A 1964 Texaco gas station receipt for filling up Presley's car sold for $700.

"Many of these records are in very good condition because she never played them, she never looked at them, she just bought them and put them away," Judd said.

Selling went on all day in a packed auction room that included professional Elvis memorabilia dealers and enthusiastic personal collectors, some of whom arrived in square-toed cowboy boots, in bolo ties and, in one case, carrying a leather handbag featuring half a dozen likenesses of the King.

"It's a tricky business about how this collection came to be created, but for the rest of us, it's great -- well done! I'd buy it all if I could," said Chris Latham, head of quality assurance at a British aerospace company by day, Elvis collector by night.

Patricia Phillipson, head of finance and revenue at the district council, professed to be "absolutely amazed" at the collection amassed by a former co-worker whose only hint to her fellow employees was the Elvis calendar that hung near her desk.

"She was a well-liked and trusted employee, and never did she show any signs of wanting to do something like this," Phillipson said. "But from what we know now, it was just an issue of she had to have this stuff. I mean, she just wanted it."

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