URBANA, Ill. (AP) — The mystery of just who swiped a bronze bust of former President Abraham Lincoln from the University of Illinois has gone unsolved — and been all but forgotten — in the 30-plus years since the statue was taken.

The man on the recording says he was the founder of the Statue Liberation Society and helped steal not only the Lincoln bust — which turned up a few days after the theft sitting atop a tree stump at a campus golf course — but had a hand in a series of statue thefts over the next few years.

“The people involved were basically college pranksters and now they’re, most of them are professionals in accounting, law, management,” the artificially deep, slowed voice said. “They were not thieves. It began really as a college prank.”

The compact disc containing the recording was mailed to the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences back in February, but sat around for a while before landing on communications specialist David Evensen’s desk.

“I popped it in and I heard this kind of this electronically masked voice and I thought, ‘What is this?’, and then I realized,” Evensen said.

University staff working on the current renovation of Lincoln Hall didn’t recall the bust being taken until they recently found a note mentioning it, he said.

The disc was mailed from what turned out to be a fake return address in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows and sent under the name Matt Jones, which doesn’t match any graduate who would have been on campus at the time, Evensen said.

The man on the recording said he decided to speak out after seeing a couple of mentions of the theft in recent college newsletters. They mention repairs of damage done to the statue, presumably during the theft.

“We never intended to harm the bust,” the man said, explaining that the police were called and told where to find it on the now-gone golf course. Another call to police followed, expressing concern that officers weren’t retrieving it fast enough to prevent someone else from really stealing the statue from the stump.

That detail, the second phone call, made Evensen believe the confession was genuine. It never appeared in news coverage at the time but is referenced in the police report.

A couple of years passed, the man on the recording continues, before a group of his friends began to talk about how to leave their mark on the university.

“I think I know just what to do,” he said.

They stole four more statues, he said, and this time made demands, kidnapper style, for their return: They wanted bike path laws more strictly enforced, better campus security and improved check-cashing services.

The man takes some credit for what he believes are improvements in those areas now and says he knows because he comes back to campus.

“Certainly when we go back to campus these days, I note how many of the statues are bolted down,” he said.

Evensen said he’d like to talk to the man. He’s mailed letters to several variations of the fake return address that he’s found online, expecting them to be returned, “address unknown.” Mostly, he was right, but he hasn’t quite given up hope.

“One of them,” Evensen said, “hasn’t come back.”

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Online:

Lincoln bust confession: http://www.lincolnhall.illinois.edu/storyography/stories/bust/