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How Two Thieves Stole Thousands of Prints From University Libraries

Atlas Obscura: “In the summer of 1980, Robert Kindred was a 35-year-old high school dropout with no plans of going to college. Despite that, scattered in the backseat of his newly leased Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham were half a dozen guides to American college and university locations, each representing a region of the United States. He also had a single volume covering the entire country in his briefcase. A former Boy Scout, he liked to be prepared. No major American crime requires as much travelling as that of stealing rare books from libraries, a fact Kindred knew from experience. Thanks to wealthy Americans, poor Europeans, two hot wars, and one cold one, the fruits of 500 years of printing came to be scattered across the United States in the second half of the 20th century. And almost all of it could be found on the shelves of some college or university library. Kindred’s capture, and his subsequent prosecution, led to the creation of one more reference source, this one unique: a catalog of the stolen items he kept in the car trunk. Two librarians from the University of Illinois spent the rest of the summer of 1980 in a cramped room in the campus police station trying to make sense of the thousands of loose prints piled and packed in bags and boxes. Before web browsers and online catalogs—and without even access to a telephone to call other libraries—the two men mostly used their bibliographic instincts and a few reference sources to reverse engineer Kindred’s trip and identify the owners of some of the pieces. Alas, all of their work amounted to nearly nothing. It aided the return of some of the prints to their rightful owners, but the state’s attorney did not use it at all. Kindred pleaded guilty to a single charge in Champaign County, and was sentenced to probation. Green was not prosecuted in Illinois at all, and neither man was prosecuted by any other state, including Texas, where they did the most damage…”

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