Missing Rare Books, Letters Arrive in Mail

Times Staff Writer

All 46 missing rare books and "irreplaceable" collector's items, including handwritten love letters by author-playwright George Bernard Shaw, returned to Cal State Fullerton's library on Monday just as mysteriously as they disappeared more than four months ago.

"They came back by mail, in a package addressed to the library, on Monday morning," said Capt. Dan Byrnes, assistant director of public safety at the Fullerton campus.

All the returned books and manuscripts were in good condition and apparently undamaged in their unexplained odyssey, said Byrnes, who has headed the investigation since their disappearance in June. Their total value was estimated at $13,000.

Byrnes declined Monday to reveal whether the package containing the missing valuables bore a return address or postmark. But he did say there was no message of any kind in the package. An investigation is continuing, but he said he couldn't comment on possible suspects.

The 46 missing items, including the Shaw letters, were kept in the university library's special collections room, where admittance is carefully controlled. University officials have said no one was given permission to check out the missing books and letters.

The disappearance was never officially categorized as a "theft," since acting university librarian Robert Emry noted, "I don't know if the items were stolen."

But Byrnes said Monday night that their anonymous return clearly indicates that the rare items were taken without permission, and not just "lost" or "misplaced."

When the loss was disclosed Oct. 20, university officials expressed their fear that the missing items might be sold to collectors on the black market. To alert unwitting buyers, Cal State Fullerton advertised the disappearance in a number of periodicals specializing in literary collectors' items.

University officials were "thrilled" at the return of the rare literary collectibles, Byrnes said. "The Shaw letters were one of a kind and irreplaceable," he said, noting that they alone might have commanded big sums of money if sold to a private collector.

The letters are by Shaw to Alice Lockett, an English nurse he wooed early in his literary career when he supported himself mostly as a drama critic.

Other very valuable items that were returned Monday in the anonymous package included a 19th-Century edition of "The Flatlands" by Edwin Abbott, which librarian Emry described as a "fantasy satire" that is an "early example of science fiction."

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