Martin Casas learned some terrible news a week ago — his entire personal collection of 3,000 comic books had been stolen.

Thieves had clipped the lock on his storage unit at Public Storage off Third Street and hauled away ten boxes of comics unnoticed. Casas was with his daughter when he arrived to survey the loss. He tried to play it cool for her sake, but he was furious.

“I was boiling on the inside, seething,” he says.

His collection’s value was more sentimental than financial, marking milestones of the past thirty years of his life. He had kept comics from the year his daughter was born and the year he was married. The book his stepmother gave him after his dad died had been in those boxes. Now, they were all gone.

Police were initially stumped. Casas says they told him there had been a series of storage unit burglaries lately, but no one had been arrested. In his case, he had rented the locker to clear some space while renovating his home and only learned after the theft that his unit was in a part of the facility that was not covered by surveillance cameras.

The thieves left behind his old dresser and an exercise machine. On the ground, Casas spotted his ruined Master Lock.

Still, he was hopeful about seeing his comics again. One summer, his Dodge Caravan was stolen four times, and it was recovered four times, he says. His house had also been burglarized in the past, and he got his stuff back that time, too. The comics, he knew, would be tougher to trace.

“All that stuff had serial numbers,” he says of his past stolen possessions. “This was like 3,000 pieces of paper.”

Working in Casas’ favor was a relatively new business venture. More than a year ago, he opened Apotheosis Comics & Lounge (3206 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-802-7090), a combination comic book store and bar. After the theft, Casas told his staff that if anyone called with an offer to sell a collection, tell them he was definitely interested.

Sure enough, a Chesterfield woman called within days of the storage locker burglary and asked if Apotheosis might want to buy a box of her comics. Encouraged by a store employee, she dropped off the box on Friday for review and left her name and phone number. Casas arrived shortly after she left to see what she had brought. As soon as he saw the box, he knew.

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