MARIN COUNTY -- One of the earliest surviving posters of Mickey Mouse brought more than $100,000 at a Dallas auction last week after taking an unexpected trip to New York from its Belvedere owner's home.

Crowell Havens Beech, a well-known Belvedere movie poster collector, bought the 1928 poster nearly 25 years ago. The story of how it got to New York and then Dallas, fetching $101,575 on Thursday, is a tale as exciting as anything Walt Disney ever came up with.

"Mickey had an adventure," said Tracy Beech Leighton, the collector's daughter. The adventure began during the January storms of 2011, when a handyman repairing damage from a fallen tree stole the poster, Leighton said.

Beech, the Belvedere collector, had died at age 84 in 2008, leaving the poster hidden; his daughter and his widow, Lorraine, merely thought it was lost. They continued working with Grey Smith, a Heritage Auctions dealer in Dallas, to sell other posters from Beech's voluminous collection. Smith had seen the 1928 poster in Beech's home years earlier.

A couple of months after the theft, the handyman sold the poster to a New York dealer who had no idea it had been stolen. When that dealer put it up for sale, Smith saw the ad and smelled a rat -- or rather, a mouse. Smith called Leighton, tout suite.

"We just thought it was lost in the house, and then to get a phone call and find out someone had spotted it, it was like, 'Ohhhhh!'" said Leighton.

Leighton, who now lives in Yuba City with her husband, Lloyd, verified that the name on an invoice for the tree damage repair was the same as that on the check written by the New York dealer for the poster.

"So the guy back East who accidentally bought it, not knowing it was stolen, graciously returned it (the poster)," Leighton said. "I had it shipped straight to the auction house and it's been right there ever since, safely locked in their vault, until we decided it was the right time to have it sold."

The poster was co-owned with fellow collector Jose Carpio, said Lloyd Leighton, Tracy's husband. It was necessary to locate the deceased fellow collector's heirs before the poster could be sold.

After discovering the theft, Leighton notified Belvedere police.

"As soon as we found out, my wife filed a report," said Lloyd Leighton. "Belvedere police started investigating. They found the guy and they arrested him. He admitted he stole the poster along with some other things and pled guilty."

Tracy Leighton said, "The Belvedere police did a fabulous job. Sgt. Chris Pool spearheaded the investigation."

The auction house did not disclose the name of the person who bought the poster last week. According to the listing on the Heritage Auction website, the poster is "the only copy known to exist."

Tracy Leighton said, "It's typical for Mickey Mouse to have an adventure. And it all turned out right, just like it usually does in the cartoons."

Contact Janis Mara via email at jmara@marinij.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/jmara.