Four years ago, a multistate network of adult cinemas and bookstores put 12 cartons of homosexually oriented films on a bus from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Atlanta. To deter pilfering, fictitious names were given both the sender and the addressee. For the latter, someone prankishly chose "Leggs, Inc." The reason was that Leggs" -- or "Legs" -- was the nickname of a female employee.

By chance, L'Eggs Products Inc., a manufacturer of women's hosiery, was a customer of Greyhound Package Express in Atlanta. And so bus company employees, apparently assuming a typographical error had been made, phoned L'Eggs to say that a shipment for the company was in Greyhound's "will call."

This chain of events may sound more like the introduction to a new adventure of the Pink Panther than the seedbed of a Supreme Court case involving serious constitutional issues. But the court agreed yesterday to review an appeals tribunal's affirmance of the criminal convictions of the two-co-owners of the film and bookstore network.

The phone call to L'Eggs Products brought an employee of the hosiery company to Greyhound to pick up the shipment. But the boxes struck him as unusual. He opened one and found reels of eight-millimeter film inside. Leaving the cartons in "will call," he returned to company offices in Chamblee, Ga., to report his finding to a superior, William Fox.

Concerned lest L'Eggs somehow be implicated in a violation of federal obscenity laws, Fox drove to the Greyhound office, picked up the cartons, and returned to Chamblee.

There, he and other L'Eggs employees opened all of the packages, each of which depicted two nude men kissing on one side and explicit homosexual conduct from the films on the other. Fox removed a reel from one box and held a strip of film to light. Because of the small size of the frames he could not see clearly what was on them.

A L'Eggs executive then notified FBI agents, who picked up the boxes five days later. Unaware of the true identities of the shipper, fictitiously named "D & L Distributors," or of the intended recipient, "Leggs," agents asked Greyhound to note the name or phone number of anyone who inquired.

Meanwhile, employees of the film company, puzzled by the disappearance of the shipment, asked Greyhound to put a "tracer" on it. Two weeks later, the co-owners, William Walter and Arthur R. Sanders Jr., learned that it had gone to L'Eggs.

An indictment charging them and their Gulf Coast News Agency Inc. and Trans World America Inc. was returned almost 19 months later, in April 1977. Two months afterward, the defendants, for the first time, filed a motion for return of the films -- a series called "David's Boys" -- and for suppression of the evidence.

A federal judge denied the motion, leading to a successful criminal prosecution on five counts each of transporting obscene films across state lines and using a common carrier -- the bus firm -- to do so.

Walter and Sanders each drew concurrent three-year prison sentences. Gulf Coast was fined $33,000 and Trans World America $10,000. A divided 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

In petitions for Supreme Court review, Walter and Sanders argued that the FBI had violated the First Amendment by holding the films for nearly two years before seeking a judicial determination whether they were obscene, and the Fourth Amendment by making unreasonable searches and seizures.