Falling From Grace

Richard Rother lived by his good name. When the cops took that away from him, he walked off a ten-story building.

Boderke says Rother was consumed by conscience over the deal and couldn't stop talking about it. "He told me he thought it was probably hot, and I was naive," she says. "I said, 'Is that your problem? How do you even know?' But he knew he could get in trouble for it."

Two weeks after Rother bought the silverware, Mumford phoned him again. This time he wanted to know if the picker could "get rid" of a couple of gold coins for him. The phone conversation took place early in the morning, and Rother's rising alarm is evident in his questions about whether the coins came "from the same place" as the earlier goods. He agreed to meet Mumford in the park again, but half an hour later he called back to cancel.

"I don't like the risk involved," he said.
"Oh, fuck," Mumford said.
"You're probably, you know, cool," Rother continued, "but, you know, it's just like one of those things. I don't want to have anyone knocking on my door, you know."

Mumford pleaded for a final meeting. Reluctantly, Rother agreed to look at the coins. They met at the park at 11:30 a.m. Mumford was eager, almost desperate to sell, but this time Rother wasn't buying.

"Make me a deal on this," Mumford urged. "I don't want to be carrying it around, bud."

"I appreciate that," Rother said. "I don't want to be in a position--they catch me with that stuff, you know...I don't want to do it. I really don't want to do it."

"What about that other stuff, you want to check that other stuff out?"
"I'm really going to have to pass, sorry."
Mumford wasn't about to give up. How about a tea set? Wasn't there someone else his bro could steer him to? Rother was adamant. He had a "pretty good life," he said, and he didn't want "the worry of getting whacked." He told Mumford he would think about the deal some more, but it was apparent to the detective that Rother wasn't going to buy anything else and may have figured out that he was a cop. He waited for Rother to head back to his apartment, then gave the signal to arrest him.

Several police cars pulled up in front of Rother's apartment building. Rother would later say that five cops entered his apartment with guns drawn and told him he could either sign a consent-to-search form or stay there as a prisoner until they obtained a warrant. He signed the form.

"He said they acted like criminals," says Gisela Boderke. "They threatened him and threw him in a chair, and he knocked his head against a picture on the wall, and the glass broke. And they made fun of him, made fun of the paintings he had in his apartment."

Mumford says he was outside the apartment during the arrest and was unaware of any rough treatment. In any case, the police soon had further incriminating information to hold over Rother's head; the search of his apartment turned up $20,586 in cash, including more than $16,000 stuffed into the seam of a sofa. Much of it came from some recent big scores he'd made with paintings, but the cops didn't know that. They seized it all as evidence.

"It's not like he needed the money from those deals [with Mumford]," Roberts notes. "That same month he found a painting for $5 and another for $10, and he sold them for $4,500. Then he found a painting for $25 that was worth $5,000."

Taken downtown for booking, Rother gave Mumford a statement. He admitted buying the coffee set and the silverware and said he'd sold them for a total of $750 to a dealer on south Broadway; in other words, he'd made less than $600 profit from his dealings with the detective. (Much later, after Rother's suicide, the police would return most of the money seized at his apartment to his estate, holding back nearly $2,700--the appraised retail value of the "hot" silver, which was more than four times what Rother said he'd made off it.)

The anti-fencing unit sent an undercover agent to try to make a case against the dealer whom Rother said had bought the silver. The dealer threw the agent out of his store and threatened to call the police. He didn't deal with scammers and boosters; he only bought from legitimate sources. Reputable people. People he knew to be as honest as the day was long.

People like Richard Rother.

Being arrested devastated Rother. After he bonded out of jail, he began to drink more heavily than ever. In the final dozen days of his life, he gave away paintings and furniture and made coy comments about "checking out." He claimed that one of his closest business associates had betrayed him. Gisela Boderke was convinced that he was having a nervous breakdown.

"He was in this mode of giving things away," she says. "And he was so weak--he wouldn't eat anything. He was sure he was going to be evicted from his apartment, which he loved, and that he was going to prison."

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