November 20, 2015

The Curious Cases of Six N.C. Wyeth Paintings: Stolen in 2013 and Recovered in 2015

Two Newell Convers Wyeth paintings, The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff” and “Go Dutton and That Right Speedily”, worth an estimated $500,000 each, are about to go on display at the Portland Museum of Art along with four of their other once-stolen brethren, thanks to the join efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Portland Police Department and the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Maine.  The paintings, owned by Joseph Soley, were stolen from an unoccupied downtown Portland apartment sometime in 2013.   Four of the paintings, “At a touch from Michael’s knife,” “The Unwrit Dogma,” “The Duel,” and “John Brimlecombe,” were recovered in Los Angeles, California in December 2014 in an art crime caper that reads like an epic crime novella.

A break in the case came when Lawrence Estrella, a career criminal from New Hampshire with a long history of robberies and breaking and entering, was stopped for speeding by the Texas Highway Patrol on Nov. 21, 2014.  At that time, the Texas state trooper searched Estrella's car believing to have smelled marijuana and observed five individually wrapped artworks stored in the vehicle's trunk. 

Estrella would later plead guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property in April 2015. He was sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for his role as an accomplice in the case for having driven four of the six N.C. Wyeth paintings: “At a touch from Michael’s knife,” “The Unwrit Dogma,” “The Duel,” and “John Brimlecombe” to California.    While the California case got underway, the paintings The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff” and “Go Dutton and That Right Speedily” were still unaccounted for.   

“Go Dutton, and That Right Speedily,” oil on canvas,
by Newell Convers Wyeth, aka N.C. Wyeth* 



Oscar Roberts, a Los Angeles rapper was also implicated in the California case.  He was sentenced to 28 months in prison for pledging stolen property as security for a loan and for lying to federal agents about the location of the paintings.  Roberts had pawned four of the six Newell Convers Wyeth paintings to the Dina Collection, a high-end Beverly Hills pawn shop featured on cable television’s Reelz channel program “Beverly Hills Pawn” in order to obtain a $100,000 loan from Dina Collection owner Yossi Dina. 

A third accomplice in the California case, identified as 55-year-old Dean Coroniti, formerly of Massachusetts but more recently of North Hollywood, had reportedly served 19 years in prison for previous offenses. California court records indicated that Coroniti was issued a summons in the painting theft case to face a charge of possession of stolen goods but details on his involvement in the case were sealed. He eventually pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property on March 19, 2015 for his role in storing the paintings.  He was initially scheduled for sentencing in October however that sentencing has now been postponed until December. 

Court documents filed in the court case on the four earlier recovered paintings stated the artworks had a combined value of approximately one million US dollars. 

The Last 2 of 6 stolen N.C. Wyeth Paintings are Recovered

In a discreet handover, the final two missing paintings The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff” and “Go Dutton and That Right Speedily” were turned over to retired Boston FBI agent Jim Siracusa, by an unnamed party who had contacted the federal officer last summer in August.  After state and federal authorities granted the party immunity from prosecution, the undamaged artworks were handed over to Siracusa in Massachusetts, still in their original frames, on October 9, 2015.

No information has been released to the public regarding why more than one month has passed from the recovery of the artworks until the issuing of the announcement, but this delay may have been to allow authentication experts time to determine if the recovered oil paintings were the remaining two originals stolen in 2013.  While law enforcement authorities have withheld the name of the person who returned the art works on the East Coast, they did indicate that the person was not connected with the individuals who were prosecuted for their roles in trying to sell the four other N.C. Wyeth paintings taken during the burglary. 

Questions Remain

But despite the recovery of all six paintings, significant gaps in the story remain to be filled.

  • Where where the six paintings before four or five of them were driven to California?  
  • Were they on the East Coast where two of the convicted accomplices originate from?  
  • What is the connection, if any, between the East Coast accomplices and the uncharged individual who contacted the FBI to relinquish the last two paintings in Massachusetts? 
  • Is there any connection between the thieves in the Portland theft and Myles Connor, an East Coast art thief who stole art work from museums and private residences, including a million-dollar Rembrandt and who unwittingly tried to sell works by Andrew Wyeth and NC Wyeth to an undercover FBI agent?
  • Why is there so little information available in open records regarding Dean Coroniti and why has Coroniti's sentencing been delayed and does this delay have anything to do with the theft of the paintings or to ongoing organized crime cases involving art or otherwise?



While the answers to all of these questions are outstanding, all six paintings will be displayed in a brief exhibition which opens Saturday and will run through December 6th at the Portland Museum of Art titled “The Great N.C. Wyeth Caper: Paintings by America’s Storyteller.” The exhibition will also include a seventh N.C. Wyeth canvas painted in the same period as comparison and on loan from a separate owner.   

N.C. Wyeth is one of three famous Wyeth painters, often referred to as America's first family of art. His son, Andrew Wyeth is credited with being one of America finest mid-20th century artists.  His grandson, Jamie Wyeth, is a contemporary American realist painter with an excellent following in his own rights.  Two aunts and two uncles of Jamie’s also earned their livings as painters.

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* Image Credit:“Go Dutton, and That Right Speedily,” oil on canvas, 39 1/2"x31 1/2", 1916 by Newell Convers Wyeth, aka N.C. Wyeth, Federal Bureau of Investigation Art Crime Database

*Image Credit: Exhibition Announcement Portland Museum of Art

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