News / USA

Stealing Rembrandt Doesn't Always Pay

Book chronicles notorious art heists

Rembrandt's 'St. Bartholomew,' stolen from the Worcester Art Museum in 1972, was recovered in the barn of a pig farm.
Rembrandt's 'St. Bartholomew,' stolen from the Worcester Art Museum in 1972, was recovered in the barn of a pig farm.
Faiza Elmasry

A drawing by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, valued at $250,000, was stolen from a hotel in Southern California this month. It was quickly recovered.

But the whereabouts of three Rembrandts stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum more than 20 years ago, in the largest art heist in American history, remains a mystery.

Now, a security expert and an investigative reporter have teamed up to chronicle the history of Rembrandt heists in a new book, called "Stealing Rembrandts, The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists," and are optimistic the long-time mystery will be solved.

High-end heists

St. Patricks Day in 1990 was festive at first but, late at night, two men dressed as police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Using handcuffs and duct tape to subdue the guards, they made off with 13 artworks, including three Rembrandts, a Vermeer and a Manet. The booty was worth several hundred million dollars.

This 1630 self-portrait of Rembrandt, stolen in Stockholm in 2000, was later recovered in Copenhagen.
This 1630 self-portrait of Rembrandt, stolen in Stockholm in 2000, was later recovered in Copenhagen.

About 15 years later, with the works still missing, Anthony Amore, a former Homeland Security official, was tapped to head security at the museum. To solve the crime, he set out to learn about Rembrandt thefts over the last 100 years.

“The first step was to research old police records, talk to federal agencies, look at old archived newspaper articles," says Amore. "Then, reach international organizations, Interpol and the rest. And then, through those, especially for older thefts that happened decades ago, I found that art thieves were willing to speak about what they had done.”

Amore joined forces with Tom Mashberg, an investigative reporter. Together, they made interesting discoveries about art thieves in general.

“These guys were involved in all kinds of theft," says Amore. "They were also familiar with robbing things like banks or pharmacies, armored car robberies, home invasions."

“And we were really shocked to discover that there had been 81 robberies involving Rembrandts in the last 100 years,” Mashberg adds.

Most stolen artists of all time

Rembrandt is one of the most stolen artists of all time, second only to Picasso. Mashberg says the fame of the Dutch master makes his work a target.

“He left behind at least 1,000 works in the U.S., Europe, Canada and other parts of the world. His name is so familiar even to the most common criminal.”

Rembrandt's 'Portrait of Jacob de Gheyn' has been stolen four times from the Dulwich Gallery in London.
Rembrandt's 'Portrait of Jacob de Gheyn' has been stolen four times from the Dulwich Gallery in London.

The accessibility of museum art, Mashberg says, is another factor.  

“When you go into a museum, you don’t want to see armed guards everywhere. You don’t want art to be behind Plexiglas and you don’t want to hear alarms go off every time you get within a couple of feet to a famous painting."

Art thefts are frequent, and some end badly.   

“One of the paintings by Rembrandt, a portrait of his wife, was actually burned by the criminals and destroyed forever because they were afraid they would be caught and put in prison,” Mashberg says.

Why stealing art doesn't pay

However, in 80 percent of the cases, the work turns up unharmed.

And it's not uncommon for art thieves to make stupid decisions. In the 1972 robbery at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, a gang of thieves stole Rembrandt’s "St. Bartholomew," as well as works by Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin.

“It was amazing for me to learn that, not only did the thieves start boasting about it right away which led to arrests," Amore says, "but that the mastermind of the crime ultimately hid the Rembrandt painting in a barn, on a pig farm about 40 minutes from his home. So, it really struck me to think that this beautiful painting was in such a profane place."

Unlike diamonds or gold, valuable paintings have little street value. They are instantly recognizable and cannot be reintroduced into the marketplace without attracting attention, which makes it difficult for criminals to sell them.

“We have several cases in the book where the thieves just gave up and left the paintings off in a public place, like a train station or a park, and then called the police and said ‘Why don’t you just go pick it up,'" Mashberg says. "'It’s too much trouble.’"

But that hasn't worked for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  According to reports, the FBI recently re-tested DNA from the crime scene to develop new leads.

Mashberg and Amore remain optimistic that the Rembrandts stolen more than 20 years ago will be recovered. Although they won't divulge details about the case, they say, history shows stealing art doesn’t pay.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid