On the night of Tuesday, August 19, 1969, a thief dressed in black walked into Harvard University’s Widener Library. He carried a backpack holding a ball-peen hammer, a screwdriver, a chisel, masking tape, rope, a crow bar, and electricians’ gloves. Once he reached the top floor, he hid inside a men’s bathroom until the doors locked for the night. He was virtually alone with 8 million volumes.
The library’s most valuable possession was a Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455. That year he introduced the first movable type printing press to Europe, revolutionizing publishing by making it possible to mass produce books that had otherwise been printed individually or written by hand. Harvard’s Bible was one of the original 180 printed by Gutenberg known to still exist and one of only five complete copies in the United States in 1969.
And it was the thief’s mark.
There had been little fear for the prized Gutenberg’s safety. Beyond the security of the library itself, the Bible’s home in Memorial Room was accessible only through two sets of double doors, with keys and locks unique from the rest of the building. The room’s only windows looked down upon a courtyard 50 feet below.
The thief’s plan was both elaborate and precise. Sometime after 10 p.m., he opened a lavatory window and stepped onto the roof overlooking the courtyard. There, he put on a pair of gloves and secured a 40-foot manila rope to a pipe. He let the rope, knotted at intervals, fall to the Mezzanine windows of the Memorial Room, and descended, using the knots as hand and foot holds. Once he settled at the windows, he took tape from his knapsack and applied it to the glass in order to keep the broken shards from falling and attracting attention. He shattered the six-foot tall outer window, then broke a single pane of the inner window to reach in and unlock it.
Once inside the oak-paneled room, he approached a bronze and plate-glass case.
Inside were separate volumes of the Old and New Testaments, each measuring roughly 15 by 12 inches and bound in red Moroccan leather and together weighing about 60 pounds. They were different than all the other Bibles Gutenberg pressed, as no two copies are exactly alike. Space was left in each for hand-painted chapter and title headings and capital initials to be completed at the specifications of the buyer. The Widener Bible’s handmade linen paper was elegantly finished with illuminated initials and ornate and naturalistic red and blue capital lettering. Some pages even included artwork, such as flowers, leaves, vines, and sprawling tendrils, also in red or blue, running vertically, sometimes the entire length of the left column.
All of that was separated now by a layer of plate glass the thief smashed, and finally a plexiglass case that he simply opened. He deposited the 500-year-old relic into his knapsack.
The thief had done it. He’d secured the book that symbolized the most important invention in modern history. He was well on his way to executing the robbery of the century.
He went out the window and began to climb the rope to return to the roof. But his strength was quickly sapped. Apparently he had failed to anticipate carrying an additional 60 pounds between the two volumes. He was unable to go any higher, and to lower himself hardly improved the situation—the rope was measured precisely to reach the mezzanine floor and not a foot longer. Even at its lowest point, the rope still hung 50 feet above the concrete courtyard.>
He was stuck.
The thief dangled as Tuesday night turned to Wednesday. When his strength finally gave out, he let go of the rope and plummeted into a crumpled heap on the cement below. Around 1 a.m. a janitor heard moans and found the thief unconscious but alive. He had landed on his knapsack, blunting the impact just enough to save his life. As it was, he suffered a fracture to his skull, a severe concussion, and a broken femur. The Bible sustained minimal damage to its binding, but its treasured inner pages were unharmed. The thief was nabbed by campus cops and rushed to Cambridge City Hospital.
Vido K. Aras, 20, was charged with three counts of burglary.
News of the robbery made the morning editions of newspapers across the country on Thursday. The Boston Globe and The New York Times both ran front-page spreads. “$1 Million Harvard Theft Fails,” read the Globe. Newsweek dubbed him “The Biblenapper.” One journalist called Aras a “human fly.” Harvard University Police Chief Robert Tonis compared the escapade to a Hollywood jewel heist in the recent hit Topkapi.
"It looks like a professional job all right, in the fact that he came down the rope," Tonis told reporters, "But it doesn't look very professional that he fell off.">
The morning after the robbery, Harvard librarians were summoned to the scene. Roger Stoddard, the curator of rare books at the Harvard College Library, was tasked with having the Bible’s damaged binding repaired.
“We were kind of knocked out by it,” Stoddard says today of the heist. “It was an unthinkable act.”
“Thieves are worse than water to a librarian,” he added.
Reporters had little luck discovering much about the man in custody. It was believed that Aras may have at one time attended a Franciscan monastery in Maine but was living in Boston (first reported as Dorchester, and then Newton) at the time of robbery. His father was a composer. It was also learned that the mother of the library thief was in fact a librarian.“Somebody is going to take the rap besides me.”
But the most detailed piece ran across the nation via United Press International. “The man accused of trying to steal a priceless Gutenberg Bible along the lines of a thriller movie script is a believer in magic who goes out with a witch and comes from an artistic family he can’t stand,” UPI reported.
It was uncovered that Aras had two sisters and was living in Newton with his divorced mother. According to a friend, Aras was unusually “tense, uptight, and nervous,” on the day of the robbery and he had made declarations about starting “a new life,” with his model girlfriend. His house was described by neighbors as a house of “yelling and screaming.”
One of his sisters was reached by telephone and spoke softly and with concern to the reporter. “Have you seen my brother? How is he?” she asked, before continuing, “That was a dumb thing to do. I don’t understand it. I haven’t seen him all summer, but you never could tell what he was going to do—he was like a little god.”
UPI even reported, “Aras himself wore an amulet ‘to keep people from putting the Evil Eye on him,’” his friend recounted.
Despite the rough home-life the Bible thief made his mark, nonetheless. “I’ve never met any one man who made such an impression on me,” said the friend, who called Aras “brilliant” and “extremely generous.”
“All he wanted from the world was a chance—a chance to grow up where he didn’t have to grow up for nickels.”
He’d been in trouble with the law before: At 17 he was found guilty of illegal possession of beer; the next year he was arrested after being caught driving a stolen car; and three weeks later he was busted for possession of LSD.
Now faced with burglary charges, Aras struck a defiant pose, and initially stood up under interrogation, with reports of a Lee Harvey Oswald-esque defiance that spurred talk of him being a patsy.
“Somebody is going to take the rap besides me,” Aras told police.
The Boston Globe quoted a high-ranking police official who suspected Aras may have had help and that he planned to demand a ransom from Harvard for the Bible’s safe return. (The last time a copy went to market in 1987, one volume fetched a record $5.39 million at a Christies’ auction.)
But Aras quickly settled on another story: He had merely wanted to study the Bible, he said, and having believed that he’d never be allowed to view it otherwise, he had hatched his plan.
He pleaded not guilty on August 29 and awaited his trial, where if convicted he’d face a maximum sentence of 20 years. Before that, though, he was transferred from Cambridge Hospital to the Boston State Mental Hospital, and a psychological evaluation was ordered. He convalesced slowly, delaying his hearing on three separate occasions. Finally, his trial was scheduled for December 3.
That day, Aras entered the courtroom on crutches, according to Stoddard. “He didn’t say anything. He was just kind of a withered person. Obviously he’d been shaken by this… It’s a long fall out that window.”
No sooner had the trial begun than it was halted to allow for a huddled meeting between the prosecutor, defense attorney, psychiatrist, and judge. And then, just like that, the judge dismissed the charges on a finding of no probable cause due to mental illness, based in large part on the recommendation of a mental evaluation submitted by the State Hospital. “The ruling meant that Aras lacked the mental capacity to commit the crime," his attorney told reporters.
And he walked away a free man. He was caught red-handed with one of the rarest, most valuable books on earth, and he never saw a day in prison.“This slight alteration pushed my research into a different—almost unbelievably different—realm.”
Aras agreed to continue voluntary psychological treatment at a mental institution but concluded his therapy a mere six weeks later.
To the library community, it was another devastating defeat.
“We lose every time,” Stoddard said. “The court is always so lenient to people who steal books. Usually they get off. I think Vido said that he wanted to borrow the Bible to read it. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?”
It’s been 50 years since the heist and nobody really knows about the man who did it. So I set out to find Aras to see if he would answer some of the questions still lingering since 1969: Why did he really steal the Gutenberg? And what did he plan to do with it?
While my goal was simple, it didn’t take me long to realize that such a task was easier said than done. In 2018, when I undertook my search, Aras was nothing more than a ghost. A few months into the research I thought I’d reached a dead end after reading an account of the robbery by the chief librarian—who believed, like the police chief had, that the undertaking had been the work of a professional, and suggested that Aras was in the wind, never to be heard from again, and that his mere name was an alias altogether. If true, it would surely make finding him impossible.
However, when I spoke with a clerk at the Cambridge County Courthouse, he pointed out that Aras’ court records showed an alternative spelling of Aras' first name—not Vido but Vito. This slight alteration pushed my research into a different—almost unbelievably different—realm.
Not only did a Vito Aras exist, but in the early ’70s he had pursued a short-lived—but quite noteworthy—career as a porn star under the stage name “Dr. Infinity.”
Could this be the same guy who tried to steal the Gutenberg Bible?
The nascent porn industry in the late ’60s and early ’70s was a moment in time when, at least in New York City, pornography had gained a modicum of acceptance. Deep Throat made a million dollars in a matter of weeks. Behind the Green Door was screened at Cannes. Porn was also a genre ripe for experimentation that attracted a new wave of groundbreaking filmmakers into the fold.
Among the auteurs of the era were John and Lem Amero. The Amero brothers were established directors, having put out films since the mid-’60s, most of which were classified as soft-core sexploitation films like The Corporate Queen and Bacchanale. Later they’d make their mark as innovators in gay porn. The Amero Brothers never had big budgets, but their films were still considered glamorous and were known to feature top-notch acting.
They made their first foray into hardcore with the 1975 film Every Inch a Lady, described as “a hilarious rags to riches story of two hookers (one male, one female) who rise to the top in glamorous New York’s sex industry,” and starring Harry Reems and Darby Lloyd Rains, two of the most prolific stars in the business.
About three-quarters of the way into the movie, two men walk into the nondescript office of Crystal’s Escort Service. The madam, Crystal, played by Rains, is sitting at a desk talking on the phone behind a potted plant when her assistant Charlie, played by Kurt Mann, steps inside with someone named Joe Blow.
Joe is dressed in black sunglasses, a black sport coat over a black turtleneck, and black slacks.
In fact, it’s Vito Aras. And he’s wearing the same black uniform from the Harvard heist.
“Crystal, this is Joe Blow, he has an appointment with you,” Charlie says.
“What is it you do?” Crystal asks, but she doesn’t wait for a reply and returns to her phone conversation.
Joe waits amid ringing phones, before growing impatient and announcing, “Well, I really don’t have that much time.”
While Crystal talks on the phone with her back turned, Joe quickly takes off his clothes, hops onto a gray metal desk, lies onto his back, swiftly flips his legs back over his head, and proceeds to put his penis in his mouth. He then inserts a large cucumber into his ass for good measure.
“Now that’s entertainment,” Charlie says, when the camera cuts away for a reaction shot of him, eyes raised in delighted bemusement.
Posters for Every Inch a Lady promoted Aras’ appearance with the tagline, “Introducing: Incredible Dr. Infinity Doing His Own Thing.”
Co-director Lem Amero later told Rustler magazine about discovering Dr. Infinity.
“We found him in Boston. John and I realized his potential… Someone had brought us some Polaroids of his act. We thought it was very freaky and deserved to be preserved forever on film. Once we had worked a deal with him, we wrote him into the script.”
The film was a success. Dr. Infinity even won an award in 1976 when Adam Film World magazine presented him with their inaugural X-Caliber Award (based on reader and theatregoers’ voting) for “Biggest Penis on Sex Screen” (also known as The Hunga Din Award).“Control of one’s sperm leads to infinity, and through infinity to a new world.”
In time, Dr. Infinity became part of the scene around New York. In The Golden Age of Promiscuity, a novel set in ’70s Manhattan gay clubs, Brad Gooch wrote about “double-jointed Dr. Infinity, who could take himself in his own mouth.” Newsweek reported that the city’s late night cable viewers, likewise “witnessed a double-jointed contortionist named Dr. Infinity during his erotic thing.”
But his act was more than a way to break into the XXX movie business: Aras said it was a way of reaching “new psychological heights.”
“The release of sperm from yourself into yourself becomes the energy which can lead to infinity,” he told National Screw magazine’s Mara Mills in 1976. “Self-generating energy will allow you to be anything you want. Through sucking on my own cock, I have created a human condition that is very stimulating… Control of one’s sperm leads to infinity, and through infinity to a new world.”
Mills told me they spoke for two hours, a sprawling conversation that included his seven-year plan for “physical union” with the universe (he was on year five).
He further discussed his namesake—infinity—telling Mills, “If you can capture the small parts of yourself and put them together, you can find the infinite. The infinite is the completeness of man.”
The ancient Egyptian symbol of infinity, a snake eating its tail called the ouroboros, has long signified oneness, perfection, and eternity. And being sufficient unto oneself.
And he talked about his preferred color: “Black is as close as I can get to infinity… and I love infinity. It is the going beyond our present understanding, reaching for heights above yourself… Fulfilling life is infinity. Black is the destruction of the old to bring in the new; and the new reaches out to far galaxies.”
Mills says he only referred to himself by the name Dr. Infinity. “He was absolutely serious,” she says.
Despite the enigmatic theme, she was also able to glean some important biographical information. He was born in Buenos Aires. His family moved to Montreal, where they spent four years before relocating to New England in 1959 when he was 10 years old. He attended a Franciscan monastery for Lithuanian boys and trained in yoga as an adult. And he recounted his experience at Harvard.
“In 1969, I stole the Gutenberg Bible from Harvard University. I fell coming out the window and fractured my femur. They caught me and sent me to Boston State Hospital for observation. All kinds of psychologists interviewed me—the same old questions: What was I like? How did I feel about my parents? They never discovered why I stole the Bible, but they piqued my interest in psychology.” He said that after his release he met with Harvard professors on campus and attended lectures at MIT to discuss his fledgling philosophy.
Mills says that the information on the robbery came unprompted, and that she doesn’t believe she even knew about the connection before he raised the subject.
He finished the interview by sharing his goals for the future.
“I hope to introduce a new psychological understanding of human behavior,” he said. That first we must “turn within ourselves” to love the outside world.
By the latter half of the ’70s, Aras reconnected with his old director Amero to make a short film about his beliefs.
“I produced a short for him called Self Love, which consisted of footage of him ‘doing his thing’ in many famous and strange places,” Amero later told Ashley West, proprietor of The Rialto Report, a website devoted to the “golden age” of porn. “The last clip of the film was my favorite. It was a smoking trashcan in Harvard Square, not far from where he had attempted to steal the Gutenberg Bible. Vido rises up out of it, looks around in confusion, and then sinks back down into the smoke. On the soundtrack, I used the track ‘All By Myself.’”
By spring 1978 Aras was back in New York. That March, he showed up at Radio City Music Hall to protest the scheduled shuttering of the famed venue. The New York Times interviewed a “hermit-like protestor who has been standing for 14 hours a day for a month outside the hall with a doomsday sign around his neck bemoaning the loss of ‘the nation’s showplace.’”
“Oh, I’ve never been inside, never seen the show, but I’m fond of the arts,” Aras told the Times.
He continued trying to get Self Love released but never succeeded.
His whereabouts during these years become harder to pinpoint. There’d been talk among fellow adult film actors that he had at one time worked for John Lennon and Yoko Ono (who declined to comment). There were also reports of him traveling globally. Larry Revene, a cinematographer on some of the Amero Brothers films, told me he remembers “John [Amero] was getting post cards from Dr. Infinity from different places he was traveling. The one card I saw he was blowing himself in a cow pasture in England.”
By the ’80s, other actors, including soon-to-be star Ron Jeremy, also began performing auto-fellatio, elbowing in on Aras’ niche. Dr. Infinity’s act lost some of its shock appeal. He turned up in a few gay films, including In Search of The Perfect Man starring Michael Stone. He received lukewarm reviews. “Stone is first seen reading a text book on ‘Self Love,’ while we watch ‘Dr. Infinity’ go down on himself,” as The Bay Area Reporter put it. “This poor boy should catch the Cinemattachine show for instruction, since he can only get the tip.”
Aras kept trying to make it in film, but his star was fading.
In 1986 a single classified ad popped up in the Key West Citizen “seeking angels for patriotic love story. Movie setting Key West with international distribution. Interested write Vito Aras, P O. Box 4533.”
Once in a while, Every Inch a Lady would appear at a theater screening vintage fare, but Dr. Infinity’s career was over, nearly as soon as it began. Aras’ life seemed to have ended right along with it. Into the ’90s and beyond, there was no record of him at all. He had vanished yet again.
What became of the Bible thief who became a porn star?
It wasn’t until April 2014 that Dr. Infinity’s name resurfaced again with a Rialto Report story, celebrating him as “Adult Film’s First Autofellator.” Shortly after I began research, I reached out to the story’s author, Ashley West, who told me that Dr. Infinity went by many aliases and that he’d been in touch with him on occasion through the years
“He was completely crazy, and full of explanations as to his crazy life and times,” West said. “He claimed that his theft of the Bible was various things: a political act, a performance art, an anarchist statement, a protest. He was hugely entertaining and completely unreliable.”
West assured me that there was no way to reach him. “Sadly Dr. Infinity died in May last year .” He related that he’d come across an online death notice saying Aras had been living in the Catalonia region of Spain, in the province of Girona.
Despite the news, I still hoped to learn something about his years in Spain. I asked a journalist in Spain to make some inquiries and see if he could find information on his death, some sort of obituary or perhaps an entry at a municipality’s records office.
Nothing turned up under the name “Vito Aras.” Months went by. I tried the U.S. consulate in Barcelona to see if they had information on his death. Nothing. It looked like I’d taken things to the end.“When he fell with the Gutenberg Bible, he changed a lot.”
Then a few months ago, I was looking into a lead regarding Dr. Infinity in New York. I kept searching and soon became drawn into a seemingly bottomless and twisted research hole involving Salvador Dali and the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, when I saw a response to a Rialto Report tweet from 2016:
“1975 Dr. Infinity new years eve st.regis screened self love movie.”
The tweet went on to describe something about a growing dick, but more importantly I realized I had come across the profile picture previously in response to another post about Dr. Infinity. I was led to a Facebook page, same name—Vytautas Kerbelis—and then, holy shit, I read: “born in Buenos Aires,” “lives in Girona,” on and on; everything I knew about Aras was here.
There were no posts past July 2016. The Facebook page was anything but social, no comrades save a handful and absolutely no responses to any of his posts, just stream of consciousness screeds ripping on Vladimir Putin and Mark Zuckerberg (referred to familiarly as MZ). Kerbelis also posted frequently about Dr. Infinity and the Gutenberg Bible and wanting to sell his self-made film for a preposterous sum.
“I said my Manhatten [sic] visit would be to promote my powerful out of this world Dr. Infinity movie which Dali wanted and got for his museum. The price in consideration being of great impact is 3.5 billion euros as of latest several billionaires have given attention am in no hurry. To get a peek my promo in movie by Amero bros, Every Inch a Lady can be bought online. Best wishes to my fans and may you all be blessed with magic of 2015.”
And then the kicker: He left a contact email of [email protected]
I dug deeper into his Twitter account—which described him as “news wizard futurist father time travel historian”— and it was more of the same. Mixed in with a steady stream on global politics were passages that jumped out at me: “Eagle means Aras with Vita . . . next month at Harvard 1969 landing over gutenberg bible,” and “1969 Vito Aras nearly died with gutenberg bibles fell 60ft delusion grandeur,” and “Thx to following Boston my global experiment symbolic big data 69 gutenberg my galaxy self taught no time lost 4 dragon tail.”
Finally, I learned the most surprising twist: Dr. Infinity was a family man.
“You have an interest in the stealing? The Gutenberg Bible?” Conxita Pladevall asked me when I reached her in Spain by phone.
Pladevall confirmed that I had indeed found Dr. Infinity the porn philosopher. Vito Aras the Gutenberg Thief. It turns out the latter was as much a stage name as the former. His real name was Vytautas K. Kerbelis, she said.
Pladevall, an artist in Girona, says she met Kerbelis in 1980. Her first impression of him was that he seemed lonely, but she also found him intriguing, “a novel person,” right from the start.
“I met him when he was working for Yoko Ono,” Pladevall says nonchalantly. “He met Dali and Andy Warhol. He was a magical person. Magnetism was his power.”
After years of apparently being alone, Kerbelis fell quickly in love upon meeting Pladevall. Soon thereafter, they moved to Barcelona and had a daughter, Diana, in 1982. Pladevall spent 37 years in a relationship with Kerbelis, but “I never wanted to marry him,” she says playfully.
Pladevall dismisses his eccentricities, pointing out that the misunderstood are always derided with labels, and says he was as much crazy as he was a genius. But when she speaks about the heist, she does wonder about the effects of that fall.
“When he fell with the Gutenberg Bible, he changed a lot,” she said. “That’s what he told me.”
Pladevall blamed Kerbelis’ family and a lack of love for the trouble he got into as a kid. She said the constant moving around—Buenos Aires, Montreal, Boston, Maine, Boston again—didn’t help either, “because you don’t have roots.” Besides that, there was violence in the home, she says, and finally divorce. She believes that he was given too much freedom, and that it was as if he grew up all alone, with no parents around to teach or guide him.“The doctor made his famous infinite number.”
Pladevall is pleased to have the opportunity to talk about him. As our initial conversation nears an hour, I ask the inevitable.
“Oh, the Dr. Infinity, yes!” she says, before explaining that it was indeed the influence of the ouroboros that drove Dr. Infinity. “It was the symbol of magic, the circle, the dragon eating the tail… He had that in mind. He was too involved with himself.”
It turns out he made something of a comeback.
Pladevall says he hit the stage again as Dr. Infinity in the early ’90s, this time in Barcelona, when he performed for a few years at the notorious red-light nightclub Bagdad. (Kerbelis noted this as a two-year engagement at the club on Facebook.) He also took the stage at the city’s Apolo Theater, where, according to renowned director Carlus Padrissa, one of the original founders of world-famous Catalan theater group La Fura Dels Baus, “The doctor made his famous infinite number.”
Padrissa seems excited to discuss Kerbelis as well, telling me he’s very grateful that this “great artist” will not be forgotten. (He also recalls that when they first met, Kerbelis’ choice in attire remained true: he wore a “tight black leather jacket.”)
But in time, Dr. Infinity would put the act behind him for good, busying himself with the raising of his daughter, tending a vegetable garden, and participating in environmental causes, like demonstrations to save parts of La Garrotxa, a protected natural park in Girona and home to 40 volcanoes.
“He was truly a man of nature,” his daughter Diana says. “He didn’t want to be an average man or another piece of the machine. He wanted to be independent all the time. And free. Everyday.”
He imparted that spirit to Diana, who stayed true to the family’s affinity for the arts, working as an actress and in the performing arts. But her father urged her to follow nobody’s path but her own.
“He wanted me to be independent,” Diana says proudly. “And I am independent.”
Above all he preached on finding the truth. She says he was constantly reminding her, “Where’s the truth, what’s true, what’s not?”
She remembers when he showed her the newspaper clippings of the Harvard caper and she marveled at how young he was when it all happened. That’s when she reveals the answer to the 50-year mystery: the motivation for stealing the world’s most valuable book wasn’t fame or fortune.
“He was investigating the truth,” she says, and to him “the first step was to get the Gutenberg Bible.”
He wanted to see the words from their earliest manifestation and not trust the Bible as it appeared in 1969. In his thinking, the original text, a 13th century Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments, could have held important clues. “It was his attempt to give the world the information from the Gutenberg,” Diana says, “any truth that might have been in the book.”
Kerbelis died of emphysema in 2017 at the age of 68. In the end, he never did get to read the Bible or make his film, but his philosophy lives on.
“His motto was to love yourself, so you can love others,” Pladevall says.
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