312: John Ouellet – Bibliomania Book Bandit, Stephen Blumberg

In this episode, retired agent John Ouellet reviews his investigation of Stephen Blumberg, the most prolific book thief in the history of the United States.

John first learned about the Blumberg’s thefts from FBI informant Kenneth Rhodes, who had an interesting crime story of his own.

The investigation led John to Blumberg’s three-story, 17-room mansion in Ottumwa, Iowa, packed with antiques and 24,000 rare books and manuscripts stolen from libraries and universities in 45 states and Canada.

Stephen Blumberg was found guilty on four counts of possessing and transporting stolen property. During the trial, the stolen volumes were estimated to be worth $5 million. However, librarians agree the collection was priceless. Blumberg was sentenced to nearly six years in prison and fined $200,000.

The return of the stolen books to universities and libraries was a major undertaking known as The Omaha Project, supervised by the FBI’s Omaha Division’s Des Moines Resident Agency.

Special Agent (Retired)

John Ouellet

6/1987 – 4/2010







“Stephen Blumberg had a real animosity against librarians. He thought that librarians were keeping history locked up. Now, American history was Stephen Blumberg’s big thing. He got some other items, but it was American history. And librarians had no right to keep them locked up in cages. It was almost like animals at a zoo. He was out to free these books from their cages. I don’t believe for a second he would ever be giving these back if they didn’t come to us. My case was known as the case of the overdue library books.”—Retired Agent John Ouellet

John Ouellet served in the FBI for 23 years. He was assigned to the FBI’s Detroit Field Office for his entire career. Prior to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, he worked cases focused on Interstate Theft of Stolen Motor Vehicles, Interstate Transportation of Property, Theft From Interstate Shipments, drugs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs. Post 9/11, he investigated domestic terrorism, the Michigan Militia organization, mortgage fraud, and white collar crime. After retiring, he continued working for the FBI in a contract position as a senior financial investigator.

John Ouellet is a published author of two novels, several short stories, and professional articles. Learn more about his writing by visiting his website, JEOuellet.com.

The following are articles about the investigation of book bandit Stephen Blumberg:

Los Angeles Times – 4/28/1991: Man Writes Novel Chapter in Annals of Library Thefts

New York Times – 2/1/1991: Man Is Guilty in Stealing Thousands of Rare Books

Harvard Magazine – March, 1997: Biblioklepts, Part III

(VIDEO) Washington State University Libraries’ Films – 6/7/2011: The Blumberg Rare Books Thefts (Investigating Officer Steven Huntsberry)

(VIDEO) KCCI.com Des Moines, IA news report link: Remember when … $20 million worth of stolen books found in Iowa

Book Riot – 2/17/2022: The Most Successful Book Thief in Amer


(VIDEO) The Omaha Project A Rare Book Adventure Converted

To learn more about FBI property crime investigations of the theft of rare documents and architectural artifacts, listen to these FBI Retired Case File Review episodes:

116: Dan Reilly – Rare Document Theft, Charles Merrill Mount

102: Judy Tyler – Maurice Lewis Cocaine Crew, Architectural Theft

Stephen Blumberg standing in front of his now empty bookshelves in his Ottumwa, IA mansion.
The day the FBI contracted to clear the Blumberg’s mansion of rare books and manuscripts he had stolen.
The Omaha Project T-shirt that the FBI gave to volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Creighton University Alumni)
Mugshot of Kenneth Jay Rhodes, age 71, Maricopa County, AZ jail, following his arrest for the attempted murder of his live-in girlfriend.
John Ouellet’s novella, Cats, is about a retired FBI agent hired as the training officer for a Sheriff’s Department in Montana.








































Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.

1 Comment

  1. […] March 8, 2024dbs21 312: John Ouellet – Bibliomania Book Bandit, Stephen Blumberg […]


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