Watch the skies!

Or, how not to get a bachelor’s degree:

According to UK Police, UK statistics instructor John Cain had been working late in his third floor office in the Multidisciplinary Science Building on Rose Street on Tuesday night. About midnight, he left to get something to eat. When he returned about 1:30 a.m., he tried to unlock the door, but it was blocked by something.

“He yelled out that he was calling the police and then the door swung open and two young men ran down the hallway,” recounted UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

Shortly after police arrived, one of the students returned and confessed. Henry Lynch II, a 21-year-old junior majoring in biosystems engineering, gave police an earful, including that he’d climbed through the building’s air ducts to the ceiling above Cain’s office and dropped down into the room, then unlocked the door and let in his friend, sophomore Troy Kiphuth, 21, who was not in Cain’s class.

Lynch also told them he had already tried to steal the exam earlier that evening around 6 p.m., but couldn’t find it. And, he said, it wasn’t the first time: Earlier in the semester, he’d successfully stolen another exam from Cain’s office, but he assured officers that he had not shared the answers with other students.

Lynch apparently gained access to Cain’s office all three times by climbing through the building’s ducts, and dropping down through the ceiling. How he got into the core of the building remains under investigation.

I rather doubt that Mr Lynch will be graduating from the University of Kentucky, nor will Mr Kiphuth, who deserves to be kicked out for the stupidity of trying to help cheat on an exam in a class he isn’t taking.

I think there’s probably a way to get into my office by removing some of the ceiling tiles in the hallway and working your way through the space above (which isn’t structurally strong enough to hold your weight), and then crashing through the tiles in my office. But then they too would be foiled by my filing system and never find what they’re looking for.


  1. davidnangle says

    A dark spot on the resumé, to be sure. But you could always tell a prospective employer that you’d be handy to have around in the event of a Nakatomi Plaza-type event.

  2. rq says

    Cats do this, too, though I doubt they were falling into the lab for exam answers.

  3. stevewatson says

    You mean it’s actually possible to do stuff by crawling through HVAC ducts? And here I thought that only worked in movies and TV! The things you learn from the interwebs….

  4. whywhywhy says

    Seems like there would be some other way to get a good grade in the class that would be legal. Because the following seems difficult:
    1. breaking into the building
    2. breaking into the office
    3. searching for the exam
    4. copying the exam
    5. Memorizing the exam answers
    6. Hoping you don’t get caught and the Prof doesn’t notice anything out of place

    Naw, this has to be the only way.

  5. Siobhan says

    But then they too would be foiled by my filing system and never find what they’re looking for.

    Ah, yes, I’ll use that excuse at work. “I can’t clean my desk. I’m making it harder to steal our information by organizing it in a way that only I can decipher.”

  6. dhabecker says

    I knew a guy who was above the ceiling looking for a lost tool (electrician). He fell headfirst into a darkened office and landed sternum first on the edge of a desk. Took about six weeks to die. Student was lucky.

  7. bcwebb says

    We’ve been having a punctuation argument: do the air quotes go around “filing” or “system?”

  8. alkisvonidas says

    But then they too would be foiled by my filing system and never find what they’re looking for.

    To say nothing of the nameless tentacled horrors that might be lurking in there.

  9. Larry says

    To say nothing of the nameless tentacled horrors that might be lurking in there.

    I envision a more high tech approach involving motion-sensing frickin’ laser beams criss-crossing the room which the intruder must navigate without interrupting the beams all the while descending down a thin cable (fraying) suspended (with insufficient anchoring) from the ceiling. See also: any Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie or the Clooney remake of Ocean’s 11.

    Don’t most professor protect their exams that way?

  10. DonDueed says

    Nah, the exam’s right out in the open. It’s just that, if you don’t replace it with a bag of sand that weighs exactly the same…

  11. brucej says

    @9: Oh great…now I imagine him opening a drawer to his desk, and several tentacles come out, snatch the paper and vanish into the weird interdimensional wormhole they came from.

    Are we SURE that one of the M’s in “UMM” doesn’t stand for ‘Miskatonic’? :-)

  12. Eric Allen says

    Could have been worse.

    In December 1967, a student at Texas Tech University, in an effort to steal a professor’s exam key, entered the Science Building (now the Geoscience department) and confronted a custodian, Sarah Morgan, in a small lab on the third floor (room 304. The building is shaped like a rectangular horseshoe, and the room is about halfway down the southern leg, farthest from the elevator but steps from the stairwell). He slashed Mrs. Morgan’s throat with a scalpel and partially decapitated her with a bone saw. He then stole her set of master keys.

    The murder shocked Lubbock. It was suspected it may have been a student, but no one knew for sure. About four months later, one of the professors, Dr. Kent Rylander (an ornithologist and really nice guy. He was still at Tech when I was there, but is retired now), suspected his office had been entered without his knowledge–papers on his desk had been disturbed, and he had an exam scheduled the next day. He alerted the police, and the officers staked out Dr. Rylander’s office.

    The culprit, a graduate student named Benjamin Lach, used the stolen master keys to enter the office where he was confronted by Lubbock police. He ran, and led police on a pursuit during which he stole two cars, but was ultimately apprehended. Lach was convicted and sentenced to 40 years. He was released in 1983.

    The story isn’t much known around Texas Tech anymore, outside of the Geoscience department (who occupy the building) and the older biology faculty. When I was there for my undergrad in the early 2000’s, one of my TAs had for his office the room in which the murder took place. If you knew where to look the area by the sink was still discolored.

  13. says

    Just for the record, if someone can break into your office by going under the ceiling tiles in the corridor and then coming over the wall and crash through the ceiling tiles in your office, then you have a fire hazard.

    That wall around your office should go all the way to the raw ceiling that is under those tiles.

  14. naturalcynic says

    See also: any Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie or the Clooney remake of Ocean’s 11.

    The caper is much older than that. It’s copied from two films by Jules Dassin: Rififi [’55] – classic French film noir and the delightful Topkapi ’64. Which were loosely based on a real robbery in 1899.

  15. Larry says

    The caper is much older than that

    No surprise there. Its just that there aren’t enough hours in the day to research all the films that steal their plots from earlier films.

  16. Ed Seedhouse says

    Wouldn’t it be easier and safer just to bribe the Prof? If you come from a rich family a few thousand dollar bills waved under the chin might be quite persuasive and a lot easier to do.

    The only defense would be a totally honest professor. Come on, how likely is that?

    P.Z. excepted as always, of course…

  17. unclefrogy says

    I am surprised that the culprit did not get ill from all the dust and stuff inside the air duct or make the room he was going into very dirty when he came out having just cleaned it with his clothes.
    uncle frogy

  18. vucodlak says

    I felt a twinge of nostalgia reading this. I used to love capering.

    Mind you, I wouldn’t do something like what these two did. I don’t approve of stealing from most people, nor do I think it’s acceptable to trespass in the sanctum of another or behave as a voyeur. I certainly wouldn’t have done all that just to cheat as, after sixth grade, I gave zero fucks about academic achievement.

    When I capered, it was (usually) for the sheer joy of doing something I was good at. Scaling walls, crawling through the small spaces, risking my life purely for the adventure of going places wise people generally wouldn’t… I’m lucky I didn’t fall and bust my fool head. Sure was fun, though.

  19. davidc1 says

    I feel ashamed to admit this ,but seeing the letters UK i tend to think straight away it stands for United Kingdom .Doh
    Have i mentioned before that i am a Open University drop out ?.

  20. ekinodum says

    Frustrated wannabe biologist here. I don’t know how antiquated English Universities are built, but in the US, modern buildings have full-height walls alongside fire rated exit corridors, not necessarily all corridors. And as an actual expert in air ducts, I can’t even imagine how you could enter a room through the duct. I suspect there is more to this case.

  21. says

    #14: You may be right. I’ve never gone up there to look. I just know that the thermostat for the block of offices around me are in my office (I HAVE THE POWER!), there have been a few times the temps have gone a bit wonky, and then the engineer comes around on a step ladder and stands outside my office with his head and chest up in the ceiling, and makes funny noises. I just imagined wires and ducts and badger burrows up there.

  22. says

    #17: I don’t know, I might be bribable, I haven’t been tested.

    I do know I’m not going to be susceptible to mere money. Blood and souls, children, blood and souls.

  23. says

    How good is your door lock? Usually university door locks are pretty poor. Best of all, if you can pick two doors somewhere else (where you’re less likely to be seen) you can analyze the core and if there’s a university-wide master key you can figure out what master key would fit the cores.

    Hypothetically, I mean.

    I got my grades the traditional way: slacking and cramming, and it shows.

  24. says

    WRT my previous, just take a close look for scrape marks along the side of the cylinder that might indicate someone’s been at your lock with a torsion bar. Most of the time, normal key use doesn’t make a lot of marks in the metal because keys are soft brass not carbon spring steel like a lockpick. (Besides, someone who’s serious will produce a reverse-engineered master and just walk through all the doors on the campus like they’re not even locked, they won’t be sitting there with a pick up a cylinder, sweating and hoping someone doesn’t walk by)

  25. mond says

    @davidc1 #20

    I also saw UK Police and thought

    “Ello, Ello, Ello, What’s all this then?”

  26. pontavedra says

    I teach basic computing classes at a small campus. Our ducts are way to small for those kinds of shenanigans, and I am in a communal office anyway. Not that I ever keep printed copies of tests laying around either. It’s all on my computer, with a backup at home, and I don’t print or publish until shortly before the test. So, a skilled-enough hacker *might* be able to get them… but if they do, it would be pointless, as someone with those skills would pass my classes easily anyway. So far no hackers.

  27. says

    I guess I’m glad my (middle and high school) students only try the most silly things like “talking to your neighbour” and “putting on a coat when you want to go to the toilet in the same building on a warm spring day*”.

    *That particular student wanted to use the loo approximately 10 seconds after someone who had just finished left the classroom. I told him to wait some time. Then he tried the coat thing.

  28. WhiteHatLurker says

    Had I not seen this story elsewhere, I would also assume UK was United Kingdom.

    @Eric Allen
    Thank you for the story about Texas Tech, I had not heard that before.