Archive for Tuesday, March 5, 1996


March 5, 1996


Seven historic letters, including three signed by William Quantrill, are still missing from KU's collection.

A reputed academic outlaw was arrested Monday for allegedly sacking a Kansas University library and making off with $10,000 worth of historic documents.

Robert H. Smith, 37, North Little Rock, Ark., was captured on campus without incident. He was taken into custody on suspicion of felony theft. Bond was $15,000. An initial court appearance was set for 3 p.m. today.

Seven letters missing from KU, including three signed by William Quantrill, weren't recovered. Quantrill led the guerrilla attack on Lawrence in 1863 that left more than 150 civilians dead and the city in ruins.

The documents vanished between Jan. 11 and Feb. 22, said KU Sgt. Chris Keary. Smith was targeted because he registered at the KU Kansas Collection office before examining the letters.

Curator Sheryl Williams said the stolen items would likely be recovered. That doesn't soothe the sting of theft, she said.

"It really takes away from everybody," Williams said. "There's no way to reproduce what they steal. It's not like a book in print."

The roster of missing letters also included one signed by Grover Cleveland, U.S. president in 1885-89 and 1893-97; a letter from Emmett Dalton, part of a gang that plagued Kansas in the late 1800s; one from Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. president and Civil War general; and a letter sent by Kansas Gov. Thomas Carney of Leavenworth to President Abraham Lincoln.

Meanwhile, a University of Arkansas librarian in Fayetteville, Ark., said the KU probe sparked an audit of archive holdings there.

"We're reviewing materials that we would suspect might have been at risk," said Andrea Cantrell, head of research services in UA's special collections division.

"Other libraries in Arkansas are reviewing their holdings. I think he's been a busy fella," she added.

Cantrell said Smith wasn't known in research circles for expertise in historic matters. But the idea that an Arkansas resident would steal from a state library made her blood boil Razorback red.

"I have a very emotional reaction to it," she said. "It's hard to put in polite words."

Keary said the case at KU had no apparent connection with plundering of museums in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma for Native American artifacts and Civil War-era pieces.

Librarians at KU and UA were reviewing security procedures.

William Crowe, KU dean of libraries, said it was difficult to simultaneously guarantee public access to collections and safeguard them from theft.

"This is always a challenge in archival and rare-books libraries, as it is for many museums and similar repositories," he said.

Cantrell said most people realized trading in stolen documents carried huge risks. A thief is vulnerable when trying to sell hot material, she said.

"The person archivists fear most is the passionate collector. They wouldn't ever try to sell," she said.

Keary said KU police tracked Smith's movements with help of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. They knew in advance Smith would return Monday to Lawrence. He was arrested at 15th and Engel Road near a KU dormitory.

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