The still unsolved murder case of nationally known book collector, ROLLAND COMSTOCK, reads like one of the thrilling murder mystery volumes that lined the shelves of his personal library. Police are rumored to be close to finally arresting and handing down murder charges, although they are still tight-lipped regarding their suspects at the moment. Police said theft did not appear to be a motive as no books were found missing after consulting his unique cataloguing system and there were no signs of forcible entry at the house.
The book collecting world was rocked on July 3, 2007 when Comstock, a retired attorney and prolific book collector of over 50,000 volumes, was found shot to death in his home near Springfield, Missouri. Rolland had not answered his phone that morning, causing his assistant, Becky Frakes, to drive out to the house to check on the 70-year-old self-described book fanatic. Instead of finding him out in his personal library perusing his signed copy of Martin Amis’ “Lucky Jim” or his First Edition of Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”, she found him on the floor of his home, dead with four bullet wounds to his body – one fatal shot to his abdomen and three more shots to his head. His two hybrid pet wolves appeared unharmed, although one, possibly in grief, was emitting a low howl.
Most current theories wag the finger at his ex-wife, Alberta, and his estranged son, Michael “Andy” Comstock. Rolland and Alberta had been hotly embroiled in an ongoing dispute involving (what else?) a large sum of money. Having been married for thirty-eight years and divorced in 2005, it’s been reported that items at the murder site link her to the crime scene and to the murder weapon. The DNA of Michael “Andy” Comstock, Comstock’s estranged adopted son, has been discovered on a cigarette butt found at the murder scene. Both claimed not to have been to the house for quite some time and yet, it appears, physical evidence indicates they both may have been there somewhat recently. The search warrant contains intriguing statements made by Michael, to the police, following the discovery of the murder.
Among other things found at the crime scene were papers possibly relating to the divorce and possibly belonging to Alberta Comstock, a cigarette butt and spent .38 caliber rounds. Some items were sent to federal labs for testing and then, the long investigation and waiting began. It has now been reported that the spent rounds match a gun (a .38 caliber), that Alberta is said to have purchased just one day prior to Rolland’s murder. Alberta also had a partial positive hit on a gunshot residue test taken after the murder. DNA profiling tests on saliva samples are being done now and should offer more direction in the case, once completed.
Comstock’s daughter, Faith, filed a wrongful death suit against her mother, Alberta, for her father’s murder. A month ago, in October, the Springfield News Leader reported that Alberta (her mother) asked to have the civil case tossed out . That motion has yet to be resolved because, so far, two judges have recused themselves from the case. Another article this past week in the Springfield News Leader tells that Alberta has now asked a judge to stay the civil case until prosecutors file charges in the criminal case.
Family and friends have awaited arrests and charges against the murderers and it appears that they may indeed be looming in the near future. Although some locals have pushed police to press charges quickly following the murder, most people seem to acknowledge the necessity of the very methodical and deliberate process the police have plodded through in order to build a case that will hold up sturdily under even the harshest and slickest of defenses.
Comstock was known for his passionate pursuit of modern American and British First Editions, many of which were signed by the author. He’d travel far and wide, sometimes as much as 10 days each month, by plane or car to bookshops where authors were scheduled to appear. He would often bring his books, uncorrected proofs and other author materials, then he would wait patiently for the lines to dwindle before asking the author to sign his collection. Nick Basbanes profiled Comstock in his book “Patience and Fortitude”. Both Rolland, and his incredible book collection, were well known by many bookshops, book collectors and bibliophiles around the country.
Rolland Comstock’s murder fascinates me more than other cases full of intrigue, lost love, familial dysfunction and money. Why? Because the story is built on BOOKS. His library, his collection, his passion, his fervor, his fanaticism, his love of the book as an object and as a means of great writing and reading. I admire Rolland Comstock. I envy Rolland Comstock his ability to travel so frequently and increase his collection with signatures and First Editions with seeming ease. I wish the chance to have known Mr. Comstock had come while he was alive and still crazy with his passion for his books. What a treat it would have been to sit with him, or better yet, to stand in front of a shelf of books that neither of us had seen before. We could talk about the new, exciting, emerging writers that had just published their first book. Maybe he would reach out his hand to take down a book that looked promising and I would glance over to see what it was that he found so interesting…sigh. Is it possible to mourn a person whom I’ve never met before? It is, I tell you, it is.
Links for more info on this case:
A March 2000 article on Comstock and his book collection
A recent article pulling much of the information together on the case to date