Disgraced author raised eyebrows during Madison visit

Madison - A felon who specialized in the theft of presidential documents, including some being returned to the Connecticut Historical Society, raised flags with his behavior during a July 2008 visit to the Madison Historical Society, the group's president said Wednesday.

Barry Landau, who during the visit gave a presentation and signed copies of a book he authored, was sentenced in June to seven years in prison after admitting to stealing items from several museums. His assistant was sentenced last week.

"We don't believe he took anything from us," Lynn Friedman said of Landau.

Friedman, who was the Madison society's vice president at the time of Landau's visit, said she began closely monitoring the Landau story when news of his arrest broke in 2011.

"I immediately contacted everyone who had anything to do with him that day (in Madison)," Friedman said.

She also contacted the FBI in response to a plea for information about Landau, and provided the agency with a lengthy statement.

Friedman said Landau's Madison appearance grew out of contact he initiated with the historical society. His book-signing, for "The President's Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy," was arranged in conjunction with R.J. Julia Booksellers, the Madison bookstore.

"He acted very strangely," Friedman said, recalling Landau's visit to the historical society's headquarters, the Allis-Bushnell House on Boston Post Road. "He told us he wanted space to do an exhibit. We're now realizing that was because he wanted access to the building. When he came, he didn't bring anything. But he started going around the house and rearranging everything."

The only item in the society's possession that might have interested Landau, Friedman said, is a letter in which the wife of Madison native Cornelius Bushnell describes having met Abraham Lincoln. The letter is kept with archives in a separate building that Landau never accessed, Friedman said.

The Hartford Courant reported Wednesday that the Connecticut Historical Society is recovering dozens of rare documents stolen by Landau and his assistant, Jason Savedoff, who was sentenced last week to a year in prison. The items include letters by George Washington, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Day published a feature story on Landau on July 13, 2008, several days before his Madison book-signing. A reporter and a videographer from the newspaper interviewed Landau in his Manhattan apartment, which FBI investigators later raided.

Landau's downfall figured prominently in an Oct. 28 segment of CBS' "60 Minutes."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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