- Written by Michael Z Williamson
March 18, 2023 Update:
Yesterday, Vandenberg / Bard's Tower announced he is ceasing operations. He is helpfully deleting any comments which point out he's brought this upon himself by his actions, and some folks appear to be totally unaware.
And then this was seen: https://vocal.media/geeks/alexi-vandenberg-a-monster-in-the-geek-community
"Isolated incident" is definitely not the terminology to be used here. - Webmistress
March 13, 2023 update:
I received this correspondence a few days ago:
I [am also owed money] by Alexi Vandenberg. Additionally, I know of an elderly woman he [owes] over $25,000...
I filed a lawsuit (filed in Chancery 2023CH01843, if you are curious) with one count of breach of contract, one count of debt recovery, multiple counts of fraud, multiple counts of defamation, one count of negligence, and one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
If you want to see the filing status you can do so:
You can go to: https://casesearch.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/CivilCaseSearchAPI.aspx
Choose Chancery, and search by Case Number:
Search by Case #: 2023CH01843
The case ID and claim is real. What happens in Cook County courts remains to be seen and may not accomplish anything either way.
Then there was this:
I just finished reading your blog post about Alexi Vandenberg. Unfortunately I have lost a substantial sum of money to Mr. Vandenberg because of a similar trust. Mr. Vandenberg has promised to send all of the books belonging to Bard's Tower to me as payment for the money invested in his company. [So far, this has not happened.]
Names withheld, though the one can be seen on the court filing. I know both by name and have encountered them elsewhere.
There are also other alleged complaints on various fora. It appears this is a trend.
UPDATE: Two days after this post, after many exchanges on how to pay electronically, he has paid the estate his estimated value of the books.
SUMMARY: Alexi Vandenberg was supposed to sell $10,000 worth of rare books from the estate of a multiply decorated combat veteran. The inheritor is the veteran’s disabled niece. Over 17 months later, he has not paid a cent to the estate, nor returned the books.
The estate of my friend Captain Gary Kitchen had over $60,000 in retail value of autographed sci fi books. Two dealers and a collector bought a bunch. They paid promptly.
At Indiana Comic Convention October 2021, we delivered several crates of books to Alexi Vandenberg, improprietor of Bard’s Tower, the “Tower of Books,” He’s a bookseller I’ve known for years and occasionally placed books with for sale. The agreement was that he’d appraise, sell, make payments, and keep 20%.
A few months later I called to see how it was progressing and if he had any funds. I told him I’d moved $10,000 in books to two dealers.
His response was weird. He whined at me that I was wrong to have sold books, that he had explained to me (he hadn’t) that a collection like this was “Worth more than the sum of its parts.” He was looking for an investor or institute to buy the lot. Even if true, estates have to sell assets and close. The time for institutes is before one passes away.
I checked this concept with a very high-end bookseller, a famous SF bookstore, and an expert on sci fi author estates. In short: Harlan Ellison’s collection was sold off. So was Ray Bradbury’s. No one buys the entire collection of a random hoarder to…do nothing with it. Anything interesting is kept, the rest are sold.
He petulantly insisted he’d send the books back, but didn’t.
April 2022, at Indiana Comic Convention again, we spoke, and he agreed he’d get on with the selling. By this time I’d sold most of the books at wholesale, including one buyer of $30,000 worth. I’d actually found the buyer he was looking for and told him that was an option.
Move forward to August 2022 and I told him the estate needed to wrap up and close. The attorney was waiting on some final paperwork and the house to sell, and the small items could catch up afterward, but the books were a significant chunk. Vandenberg insisted he had a buyer lined up. I told him we needed conclusion by 31 Oct, over a year since he received the books.
Then it was November, and he was “waiting on the check.” I asked how much and he said, “$3000,” which seemed rather low, given the books and time involved.
Then it was December. He would “Send a check on the 21st.”
On the 28th I queried and he told me he would get me the tracking number. I asked about the spreadsheet and he said he’d send that from his home computer. (BTW, I have screenshots and logs of all the texts and emails, professionally marked by an IT forensics examiner.)
I had my attorney (also a family law attorney, and assisting the estate with other matters) contact him informally. He was supposed to forward check and spreadsheet by the 2nd Wednesday in January.
I contacted the estate attorney to make it official. He guaranteed the estate attorney he’d get it done.
February. I emailed:
It has been another week with no check, nor a tracking number you claimed to have, nor the spreadsheet you claimed to have compiled. Our mail preview shows NOTHING from you or NJ reaching our local post office. This is the fourth such failure in two months.
Immediately upon receipt of this email, please forward the spreadsheet of the books you have valuated to $3000.
Assuming a tracking number exists for any of these checks you claim to have mailed, forward that.
If, as I suspect, these do not exist, I offer these three options:
Document the books, and commence making some sort of payments. You can send an initial $100 in earnest money, and payments on a reliable basis. The spreadsheet will work, or clear photos of the spines of the books.
Call or email me with a credit card number. There is a 4% processing fee.
Or, I will provide the address of an established buyer and you can ship the books safely packed to him, at your expense, given the 16 month delay in accomplishing this very simple task. I will need tracking numbers and photos of the packed boxes.
Wed, Feb 8, 11:00 AM
to me, Craig
Ok, First things first. Which one of you am I to be talking to? Because I not answering every question nor sending every query twice to two separate people. For instance, the last communication I got was from Craig after me asking for you to check since let's be completely honest the organization skills that you Michael have exhibited are not particularly breathtaking during this entire process. I would prefer to have had the check buried than cancel and renew. His answer was I will check.
I guess I will have to be confident that has taken place, but considering the fiasco and time sink this has turned into I would prefer confirmation.
Please confirm the address right here and I will reissue the check for the 2400. In regards to a list of the books, this is what I have. When your girl rolled up a luggage cart of boxes you nor her nor anyone else asked anything beyond looking at the books and telling you what I thought about them then seeing if I could sell them. There was no discussion of timeline, or record keeping which I would have expected you to have done before handing anything over to anyone. I looked at what was there and marked it as in good condition. This is what I have.
Beyond that, please indicate to whom I will be talking and where I should send the check. If any other questions need to be asked, please indicate to whom I should direct my answers and then once you confirm that the check is not there (I don't even know what mail preview means nor do I really care), I will send it. After that Mike, Lose my number. Seriously.
Well, you’re talking to me, who’s selling the estate property, unless you’d rather talk to an attorney, who is copied on the email.
If I’d received a check to the estate, it would have been deposited and this would all be over. But I confirmed yet again that no, we haven’t received any checks. (I strongly suspect none have been sent, ever.)
He then demanded that when this was over that I “lose his number,” which is typically the bluster of someone who knows they’ve screwed up, to try to paint themselves as the victim.
So I emailed back:
Wed, Feb 8, 11:31 AM
to info, Craig
Make check to
ESTATE OF GARY KITCHEN
c/o [my address]
Confirming, as I have before, no payment from you has reached here, despite your statements of checks on 22 Dec, 4 Jan, and last week.
Our archived communications make it quite clear what was discussed. You were to sell the books and forward funds. You went on some strange spiritual journey to find someone to buy them as some sort of historical archive, which was never going to happen. I had hoped that a professional bookseller with a convention footprint would sell more books faster and for more money than I could.
Thank you for finally resolving this matter.
Ten days (Feb 17th 2023) later I sent this:
It has been another 10 days with no checks from you. I am confirming, for the 6th time since Dec 21, 2022, that none have been received.
The USPS sends us daily scans of our incoming mail. Nothing from you, or from NJ, has arrived at the Post Office since your first claim of mailing on 21 December.
As to your spreadsheet, which per the file log, you created April 1, 2022, at 1117 AM (6 months after books were transferred to you) and last updated Feb 8, 2022 at 0943 before sending it to me:
You have listed title and author/editor only with numerous misspellings. There is no format, edition, or condition listed, nor who actually signed, or if it was signed, personalized, or inscribed. There are no prices/values listed. Yet somehow, you claim to have found a buyer for the lot.
Despite that, I used your existing minimal info to find the lowest eBay price for these items, and came up with $8851. Per my existing sales, I would expect to sell them for about 66% of that price, or $5842. Were I to make a wholesale transaction, it would be about $4425. (Edited spreadsheet attached.)
You harassed me at length for selling the other books from the estate, insisting that the collection was “worth more than the sum of its parts.” Yet, your claimed sale amount of $3000 is ridiculously lowball based on the sales the estate has already made, about 34% of the minimum estimated value. Note that certain titles, in rare or first editions, would push the value HIGHER than I have shown.
You were brought into this because you were reputed to be a bookseller of some expertise.
Based on all the above, here’s my interpretation:
You still have the books and want them for your collection. As I said at the beginning, this is perfectly acceptable. Assign a fair price, take off 20% for the work involved, and send payments.
Alternately, one of my existing wholesale buyers will pay $4425 for the lot. Delivery will need to be arranged.
If you actually did sell them that cheaply, it is a done deal, but I am very unimpressed. However, in that case, I expect at this point you will Priority Mail the check the estate has still not received, to me to be logged on the account, and I will forward it to the executor to be deposited. That should reach me NLT Wednesday, 22 Feb, 2023.
Estate of Gary Kitchen
c/o [my address.]
You may also email/call with a valid credit card number, with a 4% transaction fee, since you’ve already really lowballed the estate on value.
You need not worry about me “losing your number” after this exchange is complete. It is certain I will never do business with you in any capacity ever again.
The estate of the deceased, multiply-decorated combat veteran and war hero needs its assets, either as books or as money, immediately.
Copied to Atty Doyle for record.
The log showed the spreadsheet was created right after Indiana Comic Con 10 months earlier, modified 6 times, most recently that very morning. It contained author/editor and title. It did not contain a format, edition, printing, condition description, itemized whether autographed by author, editor, artist, contributor, whether just signed, personalized, or inscribed, nor an assessed value. It was complete crap and obviously a poor attempt at CYA.
And we still have not received payment, to benefit the disabled niece of the multiply decorated combat veteran and locally respected sci fi fan.
Believe me, Rabid Fanboi, losing your phone number won’t be a problem. We are never doing business again. You fucked over the estate of a veteran with 13 combat decorations during Vietnam, the money to go to his disabled niece, probably because you really like the books and are a deadbeat who can’t pay for them. But let me confirm yet again: There have been no checks, credit card payments, or cash, sent to the estate, anyone involved, or me.
- Written by Michael Z Williamson
EDIT: Thanks. I'm sending a check for $1600 and change as soon as the paypal funds hit my bank.┬á Any donations still inbound are going to a friend who's beyond destitute. I'll take that up later.┬á If you haven't sent money on this, please hold off or give it to someone else in need.
EDIT: The gentleman was overwhelmed.┬á I'm glad we could turn his horrible weekend around the next weekend. Thanks to all.
I try to avoid publicizing my own charity, because I feel it cheapens the act to boast of it.┬á Well, I'm not boasting here. I'm asking for a little assistance.
Here's the person and the event:
Last week, my family and I were in Florida for research, including a SpaceX launch (SF writer here. Of course that's research).
Between the site tour and the launch, we had a couple of hours, but not enough to go back to the hotel. We (two families) took all the kids to a McDonald's Playplace to burn off steam.
While we're seated, a man and his son came in. The gentlemen displayed symptoms of frustration, possibly of Tourette's, and struggled with the order kiosk, with some repeat gestures and tics.┬á His son tried to help him order, and eventually an employee came over. It seems it was frustration in not finding his favorite meal, which had been discontinued.┬á Note that he was quiet and non-aggressive, just internally frustrated.
They get food, they sit across from us, and a few minutes later, a police officer shows up. Someone had called about "Signs of distress."┬á The officer was very professional, checked his ID, and the man was entirely lucid and clear during the process.┬á That done, officer leaves. ┬áWell and good.
Obviously, having your stressful evening aggravated by a police call is even more stressful.┬á He had a family member show up, I presume his brother, and they took turns going outside to smoke, and spending time with the boy, about 10, who didn't seem at all troubled by his adults, but bothered by the attention they were getting.
For a couple of minutes, the boy was alone while the adults were smoking and taking a bathroom break, and that's when this humorless, middle-aged busybody, the kind who likes intruding in people's lives, comes over with staff to point out the "abandoned boy" and how they should "Call child services."
We made sure the staff were aware the adults were on the premises, and they encouraged her back to her seat and to mind her own damned business. How dare anyone who doesn't fit the middle class stereotype be in her presence!
I should note there was a pile of food on the table with the young man, though he didn't have much of an appetite by this point.
So here's the kicker: Jess had taken Alex out to the car to nurse, and calls to ask if I still have my cash, because some teens outside were bragging about "finding" $200 in the bathroom.
Yup, I have my cash, but guess who'd just been in the bathroom? That's right. The gentleman everyone was obsessing over, who'd just left, picking up his son for a big cuddle on the way out. Adding insult to injury, he dropped the boy's ice cream cone from a physical tremor.
I go to the bathroom and strategically placed on the trash can is his wallet, containing his ID and a bunch of pictures of the boy. And no cash. I guess the punks "found" the $200 in his wallet.
I handed the wallet to the manager as we left.┬á
So after the fact, I contacted the local police and they helped me get contact info with the man's family. Yes, he was a local handyman, and had just finished some work and been paid cash.
Well, I'm about to send $250 to this guy the universe decided to take a dump on last Friday. If anyone reading this today would like to chip in, I'll send that, too.
- Written by Michael Z Williamson
I loaded up the trailer and rolled to the fairgrounds for the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife Show.┬á My friend Jack, there to help, runs over and warns me not to unload.
It seems they were waiting for word on whether or not the show would go on. They'd been calling the fairgrounds all week, and told things were fine. Then, suddenly, there's debate. After we all arrive, but not after we start setup at least. And I'm local (well, under 50 miles), so there's that.
We hang around waiting, along with the Flower and Patio Show people, and I understand why the governor had pause. Who wants 10,000 Angry Karens calling your office to complain?
Ultimately, he even stayed late to ponder this matter, because the notification of closure came down at 1626.
Show is cancelled.┬á At least it's early spring, not the Comic Con, the race, or GenCon.
Since I'm not a morally bankrupt, mentally retarded, intellectually corrupt, pathetic pussy, I'm not blaming the President for this.
There's a good chance in a month it will all be a bunch of nothing. If so, it's because action like this mitigated the threat, not because the threat didn't exist.
Meantime, I have lots of stuff to sell online. I have wares if you have coin.
- Written by Michael Z Williamson
I only knew Butch by his first time.┬á He was a regular dealer here at the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife show. He looked 65 when I met him in 1995. He looked 65 in June of this year. He was in hospice for the August show, and the cancer reached his brain and killed him in September.
Butch sold gun parts, and knew every part of every gun ever made. You'd hold up a gun.┬á "I need this."
He'd say, "Middle screw for the sideplate of a Smith Model 57." Turn around, open an old wooden drawer on his rack, and pull one out.┬á┬á
You'd hold up a piece you found and ask, "What is this?"
"That's the fore end latch spring for a Stevens Model 94. From the bend, I'm guessing it was 20 gauge."
There's at least a dozen guns here that work because he had parts I needed, and a half dozen shotguns I put together from stripped receivers and parts from his tables.
RIP, Butch. You can never be replaced.
His daughter has taken over the business. I hope she's as successful as he was.
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