02/26/2009 06:15 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Prisoner and the Art: Will the Real Owner Please Come Forward?

At the risk of using a worn-out cliché', I am the poster child for, "No good deed goes unpunished."
I have been paying to store Sara Jane Moore's art collection for almost 30 years. Sara Jane was the middle-aged doctor's wife and mother who fired at the head of Pres. Gerald Ford, missing his head by six inches.
She was released from prison December 31, 2007 and it was not until January, 2009 that I received any communication regarding her art. Instead of arranging to take it back, she is accusing me of stealing it.
This crazy tale began in 1975. I was a part time reporter for the now defunct Los Angeles News Journal, a small LA newspaper.
She wrote to me from her cell at the federal prison near San Pedro, CA. asking to meet me. I visited her early in 1976. After several years, letters and conversations, she asked me to rescue her art collection from what she described as a thief trying to steal the only possession she has left. She said the art was all she had left to leave her son, Frederic.
On a snowy spring day in March 1982 I drove my Dodge Ramcharger from the Sierra's in from Pollock Pines, CA to the Mission District in San Francisco. My truck looked very out of place with it's mud and snow tires and a winch fastened on the front. .
Dunning told me he could not afford to store the art any longer and he suggested in a letter to Sara Jane that he sell it and giving the money to her son.
Sara Jane was against the plan and claimed Dunning was trying to steal her art. She found a lawyer to represent her. However, if she could find someone else to store it for her, all would be well.
This is where I came in. It turned out though, that instead of the few pieces Sara Jane claimed Dunning was keeping, the collection included 36 various oils, water colors, silk screen's and photographs, some more than 40" square.
A promise is a promise. I have kept her art collection safe in the storage facility. I never anticipated I would have it this long. The plan was to turn it over to Frederic when he turned 21 in 1987. Frederic never called or came to collect it.
I was hoping some of Sara Jane's friends would come to pick out what they wanted, but again, no one called or showed up.

"You don't call, you don't write."

I waited and waited. Finally some indirect communications came from people I didn't know claiming they represented Sara Jane Moore and asked to make arrangements to pick up her art.
Finally I received an E-mail from a lawyer claiming to represent Sara Jane Moore, the owner of the art. I'm cautious. I know her. I needed documented proof that he really does represent THE Sara Jane Moore. I did not need the aggravation of turning over her art to a scam artist. I know my former pen pal well.
Her lawyer refused to give me a notarized power of attorney. If I insisted, he said, he was authorized to sue me for refusing to relinquish his client's property.

Well, this is the last time I ever do a favor for a prisoner with a large art collection!

Geri Spieler is the author of, "Taking Aim At The President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman who Shot at Gerald Ford." Palgrave Macmillan