We’ve all forgotten to return a library book at some point, and we probably didn’t think too much about it. Some people pay the fee, other people completely forget about it, and the book stays on their shelf forever. It’s honestly far from the worst crime a person could commit.
But one man was wracked with guilt over a book he stole from Montana’s Great Falls Public Library—in 1982.
After 35 years, the library was probably no longer concerned about the book. However, although the man really loved the book, he decided it was time to make amends.
He sent the book back to the library with a letter of apology—and a $200 check.
“This is something that’s been on my mind a lot and the matter must be resolved,” the letter begins.
The book in question was a first edition pressing of “Bid Time Return,” a sci-fi/romance novel written by Richard Matheson, best known as the author of “I am Legend.”
The man was a huge fan of the author, and he loved the book so much that when he took it from the library, he took it for good.
To be clear, he didn’t borrow it officially with his library card—he just took it straight out of the building, so the library had no record of where the book went.
“Let me be honest and present this situation as it is…I stole it,” he confesses in his letter.
“This is not my book, it belongs back in the Great Falls Public Library—wrongfully taken, yes, but if you can, kindly take into consideration it has been loved and cared for all these years.”
Indeed, the man had taken great care of the book over the years—and returned it in even better condition than he found it.
The man writes that he has read the book at least 25 times over the years, and considers it “one of the, if not the greatest sci-fi/romance stories ever written.”
But the book was already in poor condition when he took it, and only wore out further with each read-through.
So about 20 years ago, he had it professionally restored, fixing its ink spots and torn edges. He says that aside from one stamped number code, you’d never know it came from a library.
The book is also a rare (and autographed) collector’s item.
He writes that the book has greatly appreciated in value since he took it. This exact pressing is highly sought-after by collectors, even in poorer condition.
But what makes it even more valuable: the author’s signature inside. The man had it autographed when he met Matheson in 1996; since the author died two years ago, the autograph is worth even more.
But the library never even noticed it was missing.
Kathy Mora, the library’s director, told Inside Edition that receiving the book was “very surprising.” Since it was taken before their system was computerized, they never even realized it had been taken.
So it was really the perfect crime, right? He could’ve gotten away with keeping his favorite rare book forever, and no one would’ve known.
But this was more than about restitution with his victims—it was about doing the right thing.
He writes that he knew it was wrong at the time he took it, but never regretted it until later in life.
“There are careless, irresponsible acts that were committed which do indeed catch up with oneself, and the constant reminder is as subtle as a crow’s peck,” he writes, rather dramatically.
He says that the book now leaves him “only with feelings of deep regret” and he was “hoping for a chance of redemption.”
As for the check, it’s not an overdue fee, but a donation to the library, which he hopes they’ll put to good use.
“Libraries are special places,” he writes.
And the library holds no hard feelings. Kathy Mora told the Great Falls Tribune that while she doesn’t condone the theft, she is impressed by the extent the man went to return it.
“The effort and funds he put into caring for the book are remarkable.”