Friday, January 20, 2006
The Great Madison County Book Heist
Rexburg, Idaho is a small town. 94% Republican, mostly farmers and teachers, the majority of businesses found on one main street. And yet in spite of its quiet exterior, this college town’s streets were once a scene of chaos. For one night, the alleys knew the brightness of searchlights, the streets knew the frenzied tread of police-car tires, the night air knew the scream of sirens. This was the night that would live on in the memories of Rexburg citizens for years…the night of The Great Madison County Book Heist.
Like all criminal stories, this one began with an innocent human desire. Jenny Evans and Liz Whittaker simply wanted to read. But their humble wishes were frustrated when the librarian denied Jenny a library card, due to lack of acceptable proof of address. Angered and hurt, these two college girls began to walk home through the snow.
After a short silence, an angry rhetorical question burst from Jenny’s lips.
“What kind of library asks for proof of address?!”
“I know!” Liz added. “What are they going to do with it—track you down if you return books late?”
“That’s just ridiculous! If they don’t believe me when I tell them where I live, they just don’t get my patronage!”
“But I wanted those books!” Jenny added in a whine.
“Me too!” Liz said sadly.
“We should have just grabbed them and run,” Liz said, angrily kicking at the snow.
“We totally should have.”
Liz stopped mid-stride. Jenny continued a few more paces before she noticed, then turned and asked “What?”
“Why don’t we?”
Jenny looked at Liz quizzingly. “Why don’t we what?”
Liz’s eyes glinted and a smile crept over her lips. She jogged to catch up with Jenny, then whispered “Rob the library.”
Jenny’s eyes widened. “Do what?!”
“Rob the library,” Liz repeated. “We can disguise ourselves—they’ll never know who we are—and we can even probably return them when we’re done, so it’s not like we’re actually stealing.”
Jenny turned and began walking again. Liz walked alongside her, watching her face for some sign of agreement.
After a long while Jenny spoke. “Just walk in and take the books?”
“Sure,” Liz replied.
“What about alarms?”
“We can knock them out on the way in.”
“And they won’t know who we are?”
“Won’t have a clue.”
Two hours later, two girls dressed in black walked casually toward Madison County Library. The night was cold and the clouds hid the stars, darkening the shadows the two figures cast as they walked.
At the library door, Jenny Evans and Liz Whittaker exchanged a glance and smiling, pulled on their ski masks.
Liz pulled a pistol out of the pocket of her backpack, cracked her neck, and pushed open the library door.
“Everybody down please,” Jenny said, pistol in hand. Behind her, Liz smashed the alarm system with one swift punch.
Mothers screamed and pulled their children towards them into corners and behind shelves. A few high schoolers dropped their novels and stared in shock. The librarian at the front desk seemed immobile, her fingers frozen in place above the keyboard of her computer.
Jenny advanced toward her, gun at the ready. “Backpack?” she said over her shoulder. Liz pulled off her backpack and tossed it to Jenny. Pistol still poised and threatening, Liz took out her cell phone and dialed.
Jenny aimed her gun at the librarian and threw the backpack onto the desk. “That stack of books behind you—the ones on reserve for ‘Evans.’ Would you mind putting them in this?” The librarian turned slowly and began deliberately following Jenny’s instructions. Keeping one eye on her and another on the rest of the people in the room, Jenny waited.
By the door, Liz’s call went through. “Yeah, Scott? This is Liz. Jenny and I are at the public library. Would you mind picking us up?” Pause. “Um, now would be nice—hold on—“
Liz covered the mouthpiece and waved her gun towards a bookshelf in the reference section. “You. Could you please put away your cell phone? No calls.” Liz turned to the others in the room. “No calls please!”
Jenny looked at Liz. “I’ll keep an eye on that one,” Liz said, jerking her head toward the reference section, where a middle-aged man was sheepishly returning a cell phone to his pocket. Jenny turned back to the librarian.
“Sorry, Scott,” Liz continued into her phone. “Yeah, the public library. We’ll meet you out front in a few minutes. Bye.” She hung up.
Jenny was zipping up the backpack when the two girls heard the distant noise.
They looked at one another in silence.
“Crap,” Jenny said. “Someone else must have called.”
“We better make it quick.” Glancing around, Liz added “Did you want anything else?”
The sirens grew louder.
“No time. Let’s go.”
Jenny threw the backpack over her shoulder and headed toward the door. Liz followed, walking backwards, pistol in hand until she was outside. Scott pulled up just as Jenny and Liz walked out of the building. Jenny opened the back door and climbed in while Liz kicked off the license plates.
“What are you doing?!” Scott yelled at her.
Liz jumped into the front seat and pulled off her ski mask. “Let’s go let’s go let’s go!”
“Robbing the library!” Jenny said.
The sirens grew louder, and the tires screamed as Scott sped toward Main Street.
By the time the police arrived, all they found were two California license plates, lying bent and dirty in the road.
Rexburg didn’t sleep that night. Until dawn, cars and on-foot policemen combed the city. Blocks were placed at all the exits from the city. Warnings were issued to each residential area, and student housing was searched complex by complex.
Had the authorities taken the time to look in a small basement apartment in the Scrivner home, they’d have interrupted two girls dressed in black, reading from a stack of books placed next to a backpack.
And had the police checked the garage of Dr. Crouch’s house, they would have found a young man inspecting the tires of a parked car, which was now missing license plates.
The investigation that began that winter night would last 23 years. The simplicity of The Great Madison County Book Heist stumped detective after detective. Within the weeks following the robbery, authorities expanded their search to be nationwide.
Inconclusive evidence shows that the library robbers may have been hidden by two families in Oregon, the Galbraiths of Medford and the McNeils of Beaverton. Questioning of the Eggberts in Ashton, Idaho had led authorities to believe that the criminals were also given food and supplies by this family.
Leading investigators believe that the infamous burglars have set up permanent residence in Calgary, Alberta or Tokyo, Japan, although there is also evidence that they attempted to open bookstores in both La Grande, Oregon and Hutch, Minnesota.
I personally have my own opinion as to where they ended up. What do I think, you ask? I’m afraid if I told you that, I’d have to kill you.