The Strange, Sad Story of Joe Orton, His Lover, and 72 Stolen Library Books

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Originally published on AtlasObscura.com

Police came to the door of Joe Orton, the man who would one day be one of the most famous playwrights in the United Kingdom, and his partner Kenneth Halliwell’s one-bedroom apartment at 9 a.m. on 28 April, 1962. It was a Saturday, the cooling end of the first warm week of the year, and the men had been up for hours, customarily getting up with the sunrise.

“We are police officers,” one said, “and I have a warrant to search your flat as I have reason to believe you have a number of stolen library books.” Orton replied: “Oh dear.”

A search warrant might seem excessive for library book hoarding—but Halliwell and Orton were no ordinary library pilferers. For over two years, Orton and Halliwell had been smuggling books out of their local libraries, the magnificent Art Nouveau Islington Central Library on London’s Holloway Road and nearby red-brick Essex Road Library—and then returning them.

Orton hid books in a satchel; Halliwell, six-and-a-half years older, used a gas mask case. They would take them home, redo their covers and dust-jackets, and then slip them back onto the shelves.

The rest of this story, originally published in August 2017, can be read here.

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