But, we may also come to understand why it's important, ecologically speaking, to care about what happened to the feathers of what Johnson calls, "the missing birds of Tring.". In 2009, the 20-year-old American stole into the British Natural History Museum at Tring, which contains almost 750,000 specimens representing about 95 percent of the world's bird species. At around the same time, an insatiable demand for feathers among fashion-conscious Europeans and Americans set off a mass killing of birds for profit. Our show this week is the story of what may be the greatest feather robbery of all time, a million dollars in rare birds, stolen from a British museum.. It took over a year for British police detectives to trace the theft to Rist and by then he'd made a fortune online, illegally selling the bird skins or bags of assorted feathers to salmon fly-tying devotees. Diagnosed and Let Off In 2009, Rist — who was then a 20-year-old American student … In the end, Johnson fails to make much headway in recovering the dispersed treasures. Edwin is also pretty remorseless about his crime. Kirk hears the story of Edwin Rist from his fishing guide while he’s at a writer’s residency that’s not going so well. $27. For the rest of your life, you should be associated with this shameful act, for which you only got off lightly. He made no effort to cover his internet footprint, and … And while in music school in London at age 22, developed a plan to steal the feather for his passion and money. Still, Johnson’s self-aggrandizing pronouncements (“no one else was going to hunt them down but me”) can be grating, as is his tendency to lapse into pumped-up, cliché-ridden prose. The police track Edwin down after a fly-tier turns in a tip. On this fateful trip, Johnson's guide began telling him about his own hobby of Victorian salmon fly-tying. You, sir, are a thief. In June 2009, Edwin Rist, a 20-year-old American flutist studying at the Royal Academy of Music, smashed a window at the Museum of Natural History in Tring, near London, and pulled off one of the more bizarre robberies of recent decades. Rist became adept at tying flies as a teenager, but as a criminal he proved less successful. (3 1/2 minutes) The Heist. "Rist has £13,371.98 available to pay and has six months to pay it.If he does not do so, he will have to serve his 12-month prison sentence. But it's depressing to learn, as we do early on in this book, that Edwin Rist, the feather thief, never served any time in prison. It turns out that what started off for him as an escape from the strains of refugee aid work became a mission to alert readers to the vulnerability of natural history collections like the Tring that may hold answers to the problems of extinction and climate change. He made no effort to cover his internet footprint, and the British police busted him about a year after the robbery. 308 pp. Once inside, Rist stuffed hundreds of rare bird skins into a suitcase he'd brought along. ", By the end of Kirk Wallace Johnson's absorbing book, The Feather Thief, we readers learn more than we probably ever wanted to know about feathers. This is one weird-but-true story. Rist won numerous fly-tying competitions but wasn’t himself a fisherman.
That's the crux of Kirk Wallace Johnson's true story about Edwin Rist, a young prodigy in both the orchestral and fly-tying communities whose greed got the best of him. (6 1/2 minutes) The Suspect. He was born in New York City and home-schooled, then at a fairly young age the family moved to the Hudson Valley. The birds Edwin Rist stole were valuable and collected in the mid-1800s by one of the greatest scientific explorers of his time: a man named Alfred Russel Wallace. Your purchase helps support NPR programming. All of this makes for compelling reading; but Johnson's quest to find the missing bird skins is motivated by more than just curiosity. 4 comments: ... theft of the natural world and the scientific community means that you should not be allowed to have a career in fly tying or flute playing. Edwin Rist was brought up in Claverack, a small town north of New York City, and home-schooled by parents who bred labradoodles for a living, and who devoted themselves to nurturing enthusiasms in their two sons. It's a story that leads readers from 19th century scientific expeditions into the jungles of Malaysia to the "feather fever" of the turn of the last century, when women's hats were be-plumed with ostriches and egrets. Decades later, the pursuit of rare feathers, by legal or illegal means, was taken up by salmon fly-tying experts, whose creations have become ever more esoteric and elaborate. Edwin was just 11 when he caught by chance on television a demonstration of how to tie a fly for trout fishing. Sean Cole. In 2009, Rist — who was then a 20-year-old American student at the Royal Academy of Music in London — broke into the Tring Museum, a suburban outpost of the British Natural History Museum that was established during the Blitz. Johnson draws a fascinating portrait of Rist as a self-rationalizing con man and exposes the culture of secrecy and opportunism that marks his fellow fly-tiers. In the summer of 2009, a fly tying genius and feather obsessor started a worldwide hunt when he selectively robbed 299 of London’s Natural History Museum’s 750,000 bird skins. Many of those birds bore tags identifying that they'd been collected 150 years earlier by a naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace, who was a colleague of Charles Darwin. The police track Edwin down after a fly-tier turns in a tip. That he was and still is. In his suitcase, Rist carries away hundreds of extremely rare bird specimens and feathers to sell on the blackmarket of salmon fly-tying. trust me, mitch likes this sort of … These days, scientists can study those bird specimens to learn about rising mercury levels and other changes in the ocean and atmosphere. Under the nose of a hapless security guard, Rist ransacked storage drawers and absconded with the preserved skins of 299 tropical birds, including specimens collected by the legendary naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in the mid-19th century. Rist became adept at tying flies as a teenager, but as a criminal he proved less successful. On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London's Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Viking. The theft was all the more shocking because Rist and his younger brother, Anton, are considered fl y-tying prodigies who make the most complicated patterns and earn lavish praise from the masters of the craft. Rist wasn’t caught until a fellow fly-tier tipped off police and Rist was arrested. Edwin Rist is a virtuoso flautist. While many other fly tiers do not use expensive or exotic feathers, Rist’s particular type of fly-tying is … Rist helped himself to scores of vintage rare bird collections while the night guard watched a soccer game on the office television, all in the name of tying the finest old school salmon flies possible, even though they would doubtful ever be fished. This past November, however, British police announced the arrest of 22-year-old Edwin Rist of Claverack, New York, for committing just such a crime. (6 minutes) The Investigation. By. And it's a story that focuses on the feather-dependent Victorian art of salmon fly-tying and its present-day practitioners, many of whom lurk online in something called "The Feather Underground. Johnson describes Wallace’s 1854 expedition through the Malaysian jungle in pursuit of the Bird of Paradise, which “had an otherworldly beauty. Then, the guide went on to tell Johnson the bizarre story of a master fly-tier named Edwin Rist. 6. get your dad to email mitch to tell him to stop bullying you through comments on a fly fishing forum as it's detrimental to your mummy's well being. Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century. He intended to fence the birds’ extravagantly colored plumage at high prices to fellow aficionados in hopes of raising enough cash to support both his musical career and his parents’ struggling Labradoodle-breeding business in the Hudson Valley. That's the crux of Kirk Wallace Johnson's true story about Edwin Rist, a young prodigy in both the orchestral and fly-tying communities whose greed got the best of him. The ornate flies, the guide explained, were more of an art form than a fishing tool; they're composed of the iridescent jewel-toned feathers plucked from many of the rarest birds in the world, like the Indian crow and the king bird of paradise. Edwin Rist Posted by Blue Heron at 9:35 PM. The detective on the case takes Kirk to the crime scene. Soon after the trial, Johnson embarked on a quest to track down Rist, identify his network of buyers and recover for the museum thousands of still-missing feathers, vital tools for DNA extraction and other important zoological research. The book is a study in obsession as the author himself, an Iraqi war veteran, becomes fixated on the crime and the man who committed it. THE FEATHER THIEFBeauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the CenturyBy Kirk Wallace JohnsonIllustrated. Edwin Rist is an accomplished student musician and avid fly-tier who steals hundreds of rare birds from the British Museum in 2009. (6 1/2 minutes) Act Six. Photograph by Lewis Whyld/PA Images via Getty Images. Making feathers fly In June 2009 Edwin Rist made off with 299 stuffed birds from the Natural History Museum in Tring, worth $1 million 7. and then get your brother tarquin to shadow mitch around various sites. Then, the guide went on to tell Johnson the bizarre story of a master fly-tier named Edwin Rist. The Suspect. “I hopped in my car and bombed up the I-95 to Boston, the revelation setting my imagination on fire,” he writes after uncovering the identity of one of Rist’s possible accomplices, a Norwegian fly-tier known as Goku. In 2009, 20 year old musical prodigy and classic salmon fly tyer Edwin Rist broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring and stole a suitcase full of rare bird specimens that where collected over centuries from across the world by Alfred Russel Wallace. Then, the guide went on to tell Johnson the bizarre story of a master fly-tier named Edwin Rist. I won't tell you how Johnson's gallant search for the missing birds ends. How? The Red-Ruffed Fruitcrow (Pyroderus scutatus), known to contemporary practitioners of the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying—including Edwin Rist—as Indian Crow, at the Intervales State Park in São Paulo, Brazil. Johnson, a former U.S.A.I.D. How an Obsession With Rare Bird Feathers Turned Criminal In a bizarre heist, a young musician broke into the British Natural History Museum at … … From its tail emerged two wiry feathers that spiraled tightly into two glittering emerald coins.” Walter Rothschild, the eccentric scion of the banking family, eagerly took in the specimens from the expedition and assembled the largest private collection of bird skins in the world at his Tring mansion, which later became a branch of the Natural History Museum. When he was around 10 years old, he came across a video about fly-tying. Edwin visits a branch of Britain’s Natural History Museum in a little town called Tring. As Johnson says of the now incomplete Tring collection: I realized the preservation of these birds represented an optimistic vision of humanity: a multigenerational chain of curators had shielded [those specimens] from insects, sunlight, German bombers, fire, and theft, ... [Those curators] understood that the birds held answers to questions that hadn't yet even been asked. Victorian salmon flies are tied according to recipes that are up to 150 years old and call for some of the rarest feathers in the world. Johnson discovered that Rist was something of a Victorian fly-tying savant, having fallen in love with the art at age 11, and by 2005 he and his younger brother were being hailed as “the future of fly-tying” by the editor of Fly Tyer magazine. In court, his lawyer argued that he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and had trouble distinguishing right from wrong, a dubious defense that the judge nevertheless accepted, handing Rist a one-year suspended sentence. 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