DOCUMENT: Investigation, Crime

Malcolm X Auction: Derailed

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Malcolm X Diary NYPD Invoice

Malcolm X Diary Evidence Envelope

Thanks to an investigation by The Smoking Gun and legal threats from Malcolm X's family, the venerable Butterfield & Butterfield auction house has cancelled the May 27 sale of a bullet-riddled diary found in the black leader's coat pocket following his February 1965 assassination. As TSG first reported, there can be little doubt that the blood-stained diary--which was expected to sell for as much as $50,000--is hot goods, lifted from investigative files first maintained by New York City prosecutors and later handed over to the city's Municipal Archives for safekeeping.

Lawyers for the City of New York, Malcolm's family, and San Francisco-based Butterfield & Butterfield are now discussing what happens next with the artifact. Attorney Joseph Fleming, who represents Malcolm's six daughters, said the women were "shocked that something that represents so intimate a part of their father's last moments would find its way to an auction house on the West Coast."

According to a description of the diary on Butterfield & Butterfield's Web site, the now-yanked item came with a letter of provenance "from the original owner who bought the piece after the New York court system purged its files in the early 1990s." On May 13, an auction house spokesperson told TSG that the diary was "bought from the police department" by an individual who then sold the item to a "private collector." It is that collector who offered the diary for sale via Butterfield & Butterfield. The auction house has refused to identify who supposedly purchased the diary from the NYPD. And as for the consignor, a rep for Butterfield (which was founded in1865 and recently purchased by eBay for $260 million) would only say the collector is a reputable person who has previously dealt with the auction house.

The claim that the "court system purged" its holdings several years ago is ludicrous. Since 1993, the Malcolm X murder files have been in the custody of New York City's Municipal Archives, which allows researchers ready access to its extensive holdings. The archives received the Malcolm X records directly from the Manhattan district attorney's office, which had kept the boxes in its own storage facility for more than 25 years (the DA had prosecuted, and convicted, three men for Malcolm's murder). A spokesperson for the NYPD laughed at the auction house's claim that the department sold off items from its files.

The archived records, as The Smoking Gun discovered when we first reviewed them 18 months ago, are filled with original police reports, grand jury minutes, autopsy photos, and an array of remarkable trial exhibits (click here for some highlights). These exhibits include mangled bullets, shrapnel removed from Malcolm's body, and spent shotgun shells. Each piece of evidence is accompanied by an NYPD property clerk's invoice and has been placed inside an NYPD evidence envelope (the contents of which are described in a typewritten entry on the envelope's face).

But one piece of evidence was missing, The Smoking Gun noticed.

While there was an NYPD invoice for Malcolm's diary (click here for the invoice), the corresponding evidence envelope, marked "1965 RED DIARY WITH THREE BULLET HOLES," was empty (click here for the envelope). Until TSG blew the whistle on the auction, this distinctive American artifact was scheduled to be sold to the highest bidder.