A bronze bust of John Keats-valued at $10,000-was stolen from Houghton Library Monday afternoon. Police have located neither the bust nor the thieves but a "potato man" left on the bust's pedestal has persuaded them that the theft "may have been no more than a student prank."
According to Cambridge Police Sgt. James Roscoe, who is heading the investigation, a Houghton secretary saw three men-whom she now believes were students-enter the Library's first floor display room about 3:30 p. m. Monday.
While one man distracted her, Roscoe said, the other two removed the 18-inch, 50-pound bust from its pedestal and placed it in a green book bag. Before she realized what had happened, he added, the men had left. In place of the bust, the secretary discovered a large potato, decorated to look like a man, sitting on top of a black box.
"If the bust is returned by Friday," Roscoe said, "we'll consider it a prank. We're more interested in getting it back than in prosecuting anyone."
If the bust is not back by Friday, he said. "we'll start a no-holds-barred investigation." That would probably lead to charges of grand larceny being filed against the thieves, he said. Grand larceny is a felony punishable by up to five year's imprisonment.
Roscoe said the secretary could "positively identify" the thieves from photographs. The police lab has already examined the potato man and the black box for fingerprints, he said.
"It's all a pretty silly business and we'd like to get it cleaned up as soon as possible," William H. Bond, Librarian of Houghton Library, said yesterday. "We might withdraw the complaint it the bust were turned in by Friday."
Bond said there have been no major theft attempts in Harvard libraries since a "real thief" fell and broke a leg while trying to steal Widener's copy of the Gutenberg Bible in the summer of 1969.