A daring burglar came within inches of successfully stealing Harvard's Gutenberg Bible from its resting place in Widener Library on August 19.
He succeeded in foiling the library's alarm system, and removing the Bible from its plastic display case, but appears to have slipped when he attempted to climb down a rope hanging out of a library window. He fell some 40 feet to the ground outside.
The burglary suspect, identified as Vido K. Aras, 20, of Dorchester was found unconscious outside the library in the morning with the two volumes of the Bible in a knapsack beside him.
Aras is currently in Cambridge City Hospital suffering from skull fractures. He has been charged with breaking and entering and possession of burglary tools. In an interrogation by police, he is reported to have said that "some body is going to take the rap besides me."
Harvard's copy is one of 47 known Gutenberg Bibles known to be in existence. The book was printed about 1455 by Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type. For insurance purposes, the Bible is valued at $1 million but it is almost irreplaceable. The bindings of the book, which are not original, were damaged in the fall, but the pages are still in good condition.
Police believe that the suspect hid in the library until after closing time on August 19, then went on the roof, climbed down the rope to a window and broke into the Widener Room where the Bible is kept. He then removed the Bible from the display case and was attempting to climb further down the rope to the ground outside when he fell.
"It looks like a professional job all right, in the fact that he came down the rope." University Police Chief Robert Tonis said, "But it doesn't look very professional that he fell off."
The Bible had been given to Harvard in 1944 by the family of Harry Elkins Widener '07, who died in the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Widener had been a rare book collector: his family donated his entire collection to the University, along with part of the money needed to build the library which now bears his name.
The attempt to steal the Bible is expected to spur work on new security measures which had already been under consideration.