In the wee hours of December 21, 1971, an unidentified man broke into the Chemistry Building. He broke down numerous doors, and ransacked closets. After being in the building for over an hour, he left in a white Volkswagen, along with his accomplice. The only thing missing afterwards was a small amount of a widely available chemical. So what were they looking for?
According to Dr. Cyril Ponnamperuma and Dr Joseph T. Vanderslice, the answer was simple: priceless moon rock particles. On loan from NASA, and retrieved during the Apollo moon landings, the particles were being studied to see if they contained traces of what Ponnamperuma called “the building blocks of life”: amino acids, hydrocarbons, etc.
Not so, said campus authorities. Campus Security Head Jerrold Witsel disagreed with the professors’ assessment, stating that the criminals were probably only looking for chemicals. The chemicals stolen, however, were worth very little and not the type used in drug-related activities. The truth will never be known as the thieves were never caught.
Ultimately the case was a mixed bag for law enforcement. Not only did the thieves escape, but the driver of the get-away car single-handedly took four campus security guards hostage during the incident, imprisoning them in a disabled squad car. On the plus side, an immediate state-wide search netted police two bank-robbers wanted in Florida, who had the misfortune of driving the same car as the campus lawbreakers.
Dr. Ponnamperuma, studying moon dust (courtesy NASA)