Barron: From Murder to a Moon Heist: U Alums You Haven’t Heard of

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Morgan Barron

The Alumni Factor, a company dedicated to providing prospective students and their parents with college ratings based on alumni success, claims a university’s ‘output’ is the best metric to access education quality, “[Students and Parents] deserve to know more than just the inputs to the “black box” of a college education; things like the average SAT scores of incoming students… What they really need to know is what kind of person comes out of that college and what kind of success in life they can expect going forward.” Universities have lept at this notion, utilizing their previous students not only as a recruiting tool, but also to fund campus developments and initiatives.

The University of Utah is no different, as many buildings on campus have been funded by and named for alums who are generous with their success like Pierre Lassonde, J. Willard Marriott and Kem Gardner. However, every school has alumni they do not celebrate. These are not the everyday graduates who enter obscurity upon graduation, but it’s important to remember past students whose negative notoriety could stain their alma mater. U’s more infamous attendees include one of America’s most prolific serial killers and the NASA intern who had ‘sex on the moon.’

Ted Bundy: Attended University of Utah Law School

When Theodore ‘Ted’ Bundy was executed in 1989, crowds cheered and people set off fireworks. It had been almost 15 years since Ted had arrived in Salt Lake City for his first semester at the U’s Law School, and a lot had happened in the subsequent years. Although, more had happened in the years previous.  

There is no consensus about when Ted Bundy began killing women. Some theorize 15-year-old Bundy killed his eight-year-old neighbor in 1961 while others believe his first murder did not occur until the late 60s early 70s. However, beginning in 1974, the Washington and Oregon police would investigate the murders and disappearances of nine young women, many of whom were coeds. While never convicted of his crimes in the Northwest, Bundy confessed to being the ‘Campus Killer’ before his execution.  

In September of 1974, a month after Bundy arrived in Utah for school, Melissa Anne Smith, the daughter of a Midvale police officer, disappeared. Between his arrival in Salt Lake and his arrest the following year, Bundy killed at least seven other women in the Mountain West area. Arrested with items initially determined to be burglary tools; a ski mask, handcuffs and a crowbar, Bundy was soon a suspect in these murders when a search of his apartment turned up items which linked him to multiple of the missing and murdered women. While there was not enough physical evidence to arrest Bundy for murder, he was convicted in 1976 of kidnapping and assault after being identified by one of his would-be victims. This conviction, holding a 1 to 15-year sentence, was only the beginning of Ted Bundy’s legal trouble. He would not return to the U to complete his degree.

In 1977, Bundy was extradited to Colorado to stand trial for the murder of Caryn Campbell. Though, Bundy never stood trial for Campbell’s murder, escaping from Garfield County Jail in December of 1977. He was re-arrested in Florida in February of 1987, but during the month he was missing he attacked six women, killing three. Found guilty of murder in Florida, Ted Bundy was sentenced to death. Before his death, Bundy confessed to 36 murders, but some experts believe the actual victim count could be closer to 100.

Thad Roberts: Studied Physics at the University of Utah

There is a New York Times Bestselling book about Thad Roberts, Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History. This title is a little misleading. While Thad Roberts did want to become an astronaut, he never went into outer space let alone became intimate with anyone on the moon. Instead, he had sex atop $21 million worth of moon rocks stolen from NASA.

Thad Roberts became part of the NASA Co-Op program in 2000, a highly competitive internship which only accepts 6 percent of applicants. While at the Johnson Space Center, Roberts learned of NASA’s moon rock collection, all 842 pounds, including the 101 grams in his mentor’s, Dr. Everett Gibson, laboratory safe. The moon rocks were a running joke in the lab. There was often talk about selling them to fund projects. However, finding a buyer would be tricky, as it is illegal for anyone but the federal government to own moon rocks.

With the seed planted, Roberts returned to the U in 2001. During that fall semester, Roberts asked his friend Gordon McWhorter if he could find a buyer for moon rocks. In May of 2002, Axel Emmermann, a Belgian amateur mineralogist, messaged the duo and expressed interest in buying the moon rocks.  

With the help of Shae Saur, a previous NASA intern, and Tiffany Fowler, a biology intern at NASA and Robert’s lover, Thad stole Dr. Gibson’s entire safe. After hours of hard work, the team finally cut through the safe and gently removed the moon rocks. When Saur left, Thad put some of the rocks under a blanket and then he and Fowler had ‘sex on the moon.’

The following day, Roberts, Fowler and McWhorter met their potential buyer: FBI Special Agent Lawrence Wolfenden. Roberts was sentenced to 100 months and lost his chance to become an astronaut. If you Google Thad Roberts, you can read news story after news story about his bizarre heist and the motivation behind it. Then you can check out his LinkedIn profile.

 

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