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October 21, 2004

Bono's stolen briefcase returned after 23 years

Readers should know something about U2log.com: We are damn good at being discreet. Almost a year ago, one of U2log.com's editors was contacted by Danielle Rheaume from Olympia, Washington (now a Vancouver resident), who claimed a friend of hers, Cindy Harris, had found some "interesting U2 material" in the attic of her Tacoma home. Harris had found the material when she and her husband purchased the home many years earlier and had forgotten about it. Last year, however, Harris brought up her discovery in a conversation with her friend Rheaume, who is a U2 fan.

When Rheaume heard what her friend had in her attic, she was astonished because she recognized exactly what it was: the contents of Bono's briefcase that had been stolen 23 years earlier in Portland.

The saga of the stolen briefcase is well known within U2 fan circles. It contained lyrics for U2's second album 'October', and disappeared when U2 played a club in Portland in 1981. The theft influenced the making of the U2's crucial second album, as Bono had to rewrite from scratch. Over the years, Bono's briefcase has become the Holy Grail of U2 mythology. Only recently a U2log.com reader commented how finding it would be 'quite the story'.

This is the story. Rheaume contacted U2log.com to help her and her friend get in touch with U2's management so the two could return the material to Bono in person. Knowing that anyone would find their claim unbelievable, we asked for photographic evidence to provide to U2's management and received the photos that are published with this report.

The contents of the briefcase--which itself is lost (that is, only the contents were found and returned)--include a visa for the USA in the name of "Paul Hewson," notebooks and lyric sheets, letters to Bono from Ali, letters from fans, tour documents, letters from Bono to journalist Paul Morley, photos, and contact sheets.

When U2log.com contacted U2's management, they were as astonished as we were to see the photos and hear the story of the discovery. Attempts to schedule a return of the contents to Bono went unfulfilled for months because of Bono's commitments to DATA and work on U2's new album. The scheduling of Bono's appearance in Portland for the World Council Affairs International Speaker Series apparently offered the perfect opportunity for all involved to meet up and the material to be returned.

In his speech in Portland's Rose Garden Arena Wednesday evening, Bono thanked the two women for returning the material.

U2log.com is happy to have played a small part in Bono's receipt of the lost material. We are now moving on to matching other items in our "Lost and Found" department to their rightful owners. We have a couple of CDs, one mysteriously labeled "HTDAAB - Edge," a set of master tapes labelled "AB," and a barely used Powerbook. If you know to whom they belong, please contact us.

Posted by cindy at October 21, 2004 11:30 PM

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Wow. That's insane. Now Bono can finally track down and kill the thief...and have some fava beans with a nice kientae.

Posted by: Retro at October 22, 2004 12:05 AM

Any chance we might some more close up pics of the contents? At least one letter from Ali would be nice.

Posted by: Dave at October 22, 2004 12:47 AM

Dave, didn't you read the first line of our story? About being discreet?

Posted by: Caroline at October 22, 2004 12:55 AM

Wow. That's an amazing find, congrats for doing the right thing. That would have been one of the highlights at the recent Rock'N'Roll Hall of Fame exhibition.

Posted by: Watts at October 22, 2004 01:00 AM

That is so cool. Maybe this is an omen that one day I'll get back my "Bono" wallet someone stole from me at church. I'm serious...I'm up there getting my pet chinchilla blessed for St. Francis Sunday and somebody's off stealing my wallet. It was my most precious possession...a press promo that also contained my prized photo pass I got for a ATYCLB gig the band did in Vegas. Or maybe the Bono will be so overjoyed at getting back his briefcase he'll send me another one!

Posted by: Aisling at October 22, 2004 01:17 AM

U2 Log, you're a class act! (And Caroline, I just bought your little book, and am enjoying it very much.)
With regard to the missing briefcase, I think it's clear that it was no random theft at the time. An opportunistic thief would have just taken the cash that was in the bag, and ditched the contents. The fact that everything was preserved tells me a fan took it.

Posted by: rupe at October 22, 2004 01:55 AM

Talk about rock 'n roll legends. I remember reading about this event in a U2 biography back in 1983! Having your personal items stolen is a drag. You really do feel violated. However, if Bono's willing to be bold, he ought to share some of the contents (nothing personal; we really don't need that), but lyrics, pictures, etc. Perhaps U2 could even record one of those "lost" songs, using lyrics from the notebook. After all, U2 is coming up on an anniversary. Anyway, I'm glad for Bono.

Posted by: Mark Adams at October 22, 2004 02:07 AM

That kinda GOLD justifies me visiting this site almost every day for the last four or so years! Congratulations U2log...

Posted by: far2busy at October 22, 2004 02:14 AM

I'm trying to keep this all straight in my head, this isn't the same theft that included the "completed songs" for "October" that had to be hastily rewritten and recorded to get the album out, is it?

This happens often enough that I'm actually confused about it.

And props to U2log. Classy and a major scoop to boot.

Posted by: Rob-o at October 22, 2004 02:50 AM

oh my, that is so f*cking great. incredible. and *look* at Bono's handwriting! too cute. what's more suprising than even this amazing tale, is how organised Bono used to be. that's a lot to be carting around. i bet he had it all alphabetized. maybe he should join in here?


Posted by: elmo at October 22, 2004 02:55 AM

That is just amazing. That story is U2 folklore! I remember it from when I was first a fan back in '85!

Posted by: Lisa at October 22, 2004 03:00 AM

Wow! Amazing story! I remember reading about this when I first became a fan in 84. Super ending! Good job keeping the secret U2log, that would have been a tough one for me.

Posted by: aktungbaby at October 22, 2004 03:18 AM

Very class. Both to the lady who returned it (can you imagine what that would've fetched on e-bay?) and to u2log for sitting on it. Good show!

Posted by: u2chica at October 22, 2004 05:03 AM

I'm looking at the pic that contains song titles, chords and who knows what else. I see the following...

Julie Says
The Cry
When I Fall Down
Cars and Aeroplanes
No Mans Land
Father is an Elephant
G to E or C to E
Shelter from the Storms |the end of ???|
Concentration Cramp - |Christmas - Gloria|
Inside Out
?? Just right
Sheet Muscian
????? on John

And then on the right column
Speed of Life
Pete the chop
Love of a Word
False Prohphet

-is just as well

Julie Says is obviously the lyric from "I Fall Down", but why is "When I Fall Down" listed a few lines later.

The Cry is obviously the live intro to Electric Co. but is also the guitar riff for "Is that All"

Pop? Pop? Was Bono looking 15 years into the future? Likewise, why is "Boy" on this list?

"Father is an Elephant", "Speed of Life", "Concentration Cramp" and "False Prophet" are all recognizable as being out on Demo compilations.

G to E or C to E is obviously a chord progression.

Lots of interesting stuff. Discuss...

Posted by: Tim at October 22, 2004 06:13 AM

Err sorry, I should said "Street Mission" not "Sheet Musician."
Obviously Street Mission is an early U2 song, pre-Boy.

Posted by: Tim at October 22, 2004 06:15 AM

Very nice u2log. I could mention something about the difference between here and interference, but i won't.
I see some setlist ideas on there as well as songs. 'Pop' was the first thing that took me eye..funny.

Posted by: Tizer at October 22, 2004 08:40 AM

I don't care about the contents so much as Bono's reaction to getting his stuff back. I wonder if it was emotional, or detached, as he may have gotten over it years ago. At any rate- As a new U2 fan, since 97'- I've often wondered if the briefcase still existed, or if it has long since been landfill fodder. As a songwriter I know how much it sucks to lost a piece of paper in your bedroom that you've been slaving over for days. This story certainly evoked an emotional response from me...being that October is my favorite U2 album. What could have been?? We'll never know.

Posted by: rock martyr at October 22, 2004 08:54 AM

I forgot to add, that I grew up in Tacoma-- weird. My fate as a one day U2 fan rested upon the magical briefcase! jk.

Posted by: rock martyr at October 22, 2004 08:57 AM

Another thought- This IS the Holy Grail of rock and roll findings. I see an Indiana Jones film in the makings already.

Posted by: rock martyr at October 22, 2004 09:57 AM

Yes. And the word "WAR" was already there...

Posted by: Raul at October 22, 2004 11:14 AM

man what a find! I only wish we could see more of the briefcase contents. I guess in some ways maybe that'd be an invasion of privacy... but still my curiosity is really piqued. perhaps the band can be persuaded to one day produce a special box set for October containing remastered tracks and outtakes and reproductions of photos and lyric sheets that were contained in the lost briefcase?

Posted by: JC at October 22, 2004 12:36 PM

It's baffling - I wonder if the briefcase really was found in someone's attic or if the thief felt so overwhelmed by guilt that they had to return it, via Cindy and U2log? It just seems too good to be true to find this kind of stuff in your attic, doesn't it?

Posted by: Fergus at October 22, 2004 01:55 PM

fergus, I was thinking the same thing. Except I was even more suspicious than you -- it seems strange that Cindy just happened to "find" this in the attic of a house she bought, then "forgot" about it for years. The person who stole this would never have simply left it in an attic. If you ask me, Cindy and her husband have some 'splainin to do.

Posted by: Jeff at October 22, 2004 03:23 PM

As an archivist, I am DROOLING. I hope Bono puts this safely in his files for future posterity. This would be such a great addition to the personal papers collection from such a talented songwriter and orator.

Posted by: squidU2 at October 22, 2004 03:46 PM

I think we need to take into account the fact that not everybody is a major fan and not everybody knows the myth. People have priceless artworks in their attic without realising their worth - if they didn't we wouldn't have shows like The Antiques Road Show, etc. I actually believe the story.

Posted by: vonb at October 22, 2004 04:01 PM

The people who found the briefcase did not initially recognize it as being something special. It was just junk in the attic to them. To scrutinize and judge them is unfair.

When I bought my house, I found junk left by the previous owner in the attic. I might have an unrecognized treasure too.

Posted by: cindy at October 22, 2004 04:02 PM


Posted by: vonb at October 22, 2004 04:04 PM

The previous neighbours left we some very very old insulation just lying inbetween the woodwork in the loft. Very neatly laid and all! Wonder what it's worth...

Posted by: Tizer at October 22, 2004 04:25 PM

cindy, just saying questions need to be asked, is all. Hopefully they have the right answers.

And I wasn't saying that finding something in an attic is odd -- I was saying that LEAVING something like that in an attic when you move out is odd.

Posted by: jeff at October 22, 2004 04:32 PM

That is just an amazing find. You have to think how different October wouldve been with this stuff. I do indeed wonder what Bono's reaction to all this is.

Posted by: Alicia at October 22, 2004 04:36 PM

"cindy, just saying questions need to be asked, is all. Hopefully they have the right answers."

Actually, I don't think so. The most important thing to me in this equation is not the people that found it, or the people involved in returning it. The most important thing here is, Bono got his property back, yay!

Posted by: Caroline at October 22, 2004 05:35 PM

This just made Channel 4 news in the UK. How amazing is that?

Posted by: Tacoma at October 22, 2004 07:22 PM

The empty briefcase was returned years ago backstage at some U2 concert.

Bono said he was grateful that the contents weren't made public in a report elsewhere, then I noticed the 2 closeup photographs. Didn't seem like incredibly poor judgment or discretion put up items that weren't meant for public view without those 2 pictures being blurred or shrunk to be illegible at least. It'd be akin to shoving a camera into something he was carrying, taking a pic and running off. It's not like a private letter, but still... Perhaps permission was gained and I'm going off half-cocked, yes? That would be typical of me.

Posted by: berol at October 22, 2004 08:07 PM

How about this. I'm talking way after the new album is released, the tour, everything. Instead of doing a new album, with the heaps of pressure that go along with that, you do a 25th anniversary release of October, remastered blah, blah - but, you have a bonus disc, titled something like "The Original Vision" with the songs redone with proper lyrics, music, etc.

I think that would be mega.

Posted by: Michael at October 22, 2004 08:10 PM


Posted by: JR at October 22, 2004 09:13 PM

"Proper lyrics"? That's a tough call. In my estimation, October is the most overlooked, undervalued album in their collection. Consider these concert-ready gems:

1. Gloria
2. I Threw a Brick Through a Window
3. October
4. Tomorrow (which was re-recorded in the '90s)

But as part of rock 'n roll folklore, I'd even buy a book of the missing material. If the letters were excluded or excerpted, that would be fine. It's just that this is such an interesting piece of U2 history.

Posted by: Mark Adams at October 22, 2004 10:27 PM

I've seen the piccies with u2 boys (the first photo, they are posing and Bono has a newspaper on his hand) on ebay few months ago.
Could be possible?

Posted by: Lara at October 22, 2004 10:28 PM

"Tomorrow" was rereleased in the 90s? Is it somewhere I can hear it. But yeah, not their greatest album, but next to "Pop," certainly the most undervalued and unjustly maligned.

Posted by: Rob-o at October 23, 2004 01:33 AM

Yeah, Tomorrow was released on the Common Ground compilation. Bono and Adam reworked it. Very cool!!!

Posted by: John at October 23, 2004 02:19 AM

It seems I've seen that picture somewhere before as well, but it could be that those aren't the only proofs of the photos that were in circulation.

Rob-o: Everyones idea of 'greatest' is completely different altogether. I regard Pop and October as my top 2 favorite U2 albums. So it goes to show you that taste is subjective, and that it doesn't always correlate with the critics idea of what a "masterpiece" truly is.

Posted by: rockmartyr at October 23, 2004 01:28 PM

It seems I've seen that picture somewhere before as well, but it could be that those aren't the only proofs of the photos that were in circulation.

Rob-o: Everyones idea of 'greatest' is completely different altogether. I regard Pop and October as my top 2 favorite U2 albums. So it goes to show you that taste is subjective, and that it doesn't always correlate with the critics idea of what a "masterpiece" truly is.

Posted by: rockmartyr at October 23, 2004 01:28 PM

Once I lost my Elevation suitcase keychain, and I found it under a seat cushion in my parents' house like six months later.

That's a true story, but in all seriousness, kudos to u2log for breaking this story. Awesome job!

Posted by: lucy at October 23, 2004 06:35 PM

I don't think that the return is as sincere as it is being portrayed. Here is the AP article:

"PORTLAND - Bono, the lead singer for of Rock band U2, was in Oregon this week to talk about the AIDS crisis in Africa... Danielle Rheaume of Vancouver, B.C., and Cindy Harris of Tacoma were the fans who returned the notes and lyrics. Harris said she discovered a brown briefcase with about 70 pages of notes in the attic of a rental home in Tacoma in 1981, the same year as the theft. Harris, 44, said she did not know the notes had been stolen until many years later. Busy with child-rearing, she said she did not know how to reach the band..."

There are a few questions here:
1) The lyrics were stolen from the band by young women in Portland who were flirting with them and then stole the briefcase. Harris, 44 now, would have been 21 at the time.
2) To anyone who was at the talk, Bono seemed "irritated" just before he got onstage for the talk. Could he have suspected that these were the women who actually stole the items in the first place?
3) It took 23 years to figure out how to get in touch with the band?

I tend to think that the women returning the articles wasn't as sincere as it may seem. That's just my opinion though.


Posted by: Roy Dean at October 23, 2004 06:41 PM

Roy Dean- Private Investigator. I think you bring up some good points. There is no way that the person who had the stuff was naive to it. They probably held on to it for years out of fear of being found out, or until they could think of a good alibi.

Posted by: Rock Martyr at October 23, 2004 08:14 PM

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