Police originally arrested Regina Smith, 42, on a misdemeanor theft of property charge Nov. 25 after they found four library books illegally in her possession, Investigator Kyle Price said.
Price — the lead investigator on the case — said library officials reported in October that employees had observed a woman stealing two books from library shelves.
After a couple weeks of investigating the case, Price discovered Smith’s identity and went to her Eulaton Road home to interview her about the missing books.
During the course of that interview, Smith handed over four books she said she took from the library. But those books weren’t the ones officials said were missing. With some help from Smith’s daughter, Price eventually discovered that over the past couple of years, Smith had stolen 222 books totaling $5,431.
“We found her bedroom full of them,” Price said.
The library’s acting director, Teresa Kiser, said she and her staff knew many copies of books had systematically gone missing from library shelves.
Kiser said employees stopped Smith two years ago when she attempted to leave the library with books that she hadn’t checked out.
That time, employees persuaded Smith to return the books and leave without further trouble. But when employees confronted her about stealing two more books in October, Smith refused to return them and left the library.
That prompted Kiser to get Anniston police involved.
“We don’t like to prosecute people; we prefer to just keep a low profile,” Kiser said. “But it is basically like shoplifting” when one takes a book away from the library without checking it out, she said.
Price said Smith managed to steal so many books for so long because she wore an assortment of wigs and knew how to thwart the measures already in place that trigger the library’s security system when a book is taken away without having been properly checked out.
“That involved defacing the books,” Kiser said.
Titles of the books that police and library officials say Smith stole include the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella, The Art of Brazilian Cookery, by Dolores Botafogo, and a number of murder mysteries.
Investigators suspect that Smith may have stolen more than the 222 books they were able to identify as library property, Lt. Rocky Stemen said.
“There are likely many, many more books,” said the lieutenant, one of the leaders of Anniston’s investigative division.
Some of the 222 books police recovered will be returned to library shelves. But many of them, Kiser said, are in no condition for public use and will have to be discarded or sold in the library’s upcoming Friends of the Library discount sale in April.
Although Smith originally resisted arrest, Price said, she eventually confessed to police that she’d stolen “hundreds” of library books.
Smith told police she had a library card, but it was unclear why she did not use it.
Officials planned to transport Smith from the Anniston City Jail to the Calhoun County Jail Wednesday, where she will be held on a $10,000 bond.
Smith’s court date is scheduled for Jan. 14.
Kiser called the situation rare and unfortunate, but commended the police for their thorough investigation.
“I feel sorry for the lady … from what I hear, she read all of those books and treasured them,” Kiser said. “She could have had an unlimited supply to read.”
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.