Memphis author uncovers untold story of pearl theft

While Molly Caldwell Crosby was conducting research in London for her second work of narrative nonfiction, "Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries," she found the threads of information that would lead to her third book.

The Memphis-based writer was searching old newspapers for clues to victims of the encephalitis commonly known as sleeping sickness when she came across a reference to the 1913 theft of a spectacular string of pearls.

She was drawn by a detective's remark, as she notes in her new book, "The Great Pearl Heist," that the stolen pearl necklace "would probably be found sitting around the neck of the missing Mona Lisa portrait, which had been stolen in 1911 and remained at large."

For Crosby, an appealing aspect of the sophisticated theft was that the story had never been told. "You can't Google it and find out the ending," she said. She suspects the sensational crime was eclipsed by World War I.

Having worked as a researcher for National Geographic for more than seven years, Crosby was comfortable with what she terms the "natural history aspect" of her story. She describes in detail the way divers retrieve natural pearls. "One of the primary sources for that part of the book was an old National Geographic article written in the time period, so that came full circle for me," she said.

Crosby, 39, graduated from Rhodes College and received a master's degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Chickasaw Gardens.

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