Showing posts with label Insider theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Insider theft. Show all posts

June 29, 2013

History of Art Crime: ARCA Student A. M. C. Knutsson Writes on Book Thief Anders Burius and the Theft at the Swedish Royal Library

by A. M. C. Knutsson, ARCA Student 2013
Photo: Andrea Davis Kronlund and Jens Östman 
At 04.30 am on the 8th of December 2004, a top floor apartment in Central Stockholm explodes, injuring 11 people and forcing the evacuation of 44 others. Four days later the body of a man was found among the debris, along with a pro and con list of whether or not to stay alive. The man’s wrists had been slashed and the gas lead had been cut repeatedly; it remains uncertain whether Anders Burius was alive when his apartment exploded. Three days earlier Burius had been released from custody. 

Anders Burius had been the chief of the Swedish Royal Library’s Manuscript Department, and in charged of imposing increased safety measures following the thefts by renowned map-thief Peter Bellwood. Burius had also been stealing books from various libraries since 1986.

During the spring of 2004, the Royal Library personnel were looking for an 1850 map of the Mississippi. The online database REGINA still contained an entry indicating that the book would be in the library's possession, however it could not be located within the library. Following an inventory of the book stacks, it was revealed that more than 50 books had gone missing.  As the investigation wore on, Burius felt that it was only a matter of time before he would be exposed and he confessed to a colleague.

On the All Saints Eve, Burius sent a text message to a colleague, “Now I’m going into Bergsgatan 58 [the police station]”. At 4.40 pm, Burius was arrested for the thefts in the Royal Library. He was almost immediately dubbed "KB mannen" (the Royal Library man) by the media and his story spread through the news like wildfire. During his three weeks in custody, he kept writing lists for the police of all the books he had stolen. In total, Burius appears to have stolen 103 books whereof 58 where from the Royal Library. As the investigation dragged out, Burius was temporarily released.

At the time of the discovery of the thefts, Burius had systematically retrieved books from his work for a decade. He had, with his intimate knowledge of the library, been able to steal books and remove entries from the old card index in order to conceal his crimes.  However, over time, Burius had become less careful and started leaving catalogue traces behind. In addition to his meddling with the catalogues, Burius was also careful to remove identifying marks from the books. In the extreme case of Maximilianus Transylvanus' 1523 account of Magellan’s tour of the world, he had even cut the text-block out of its original binding and had it rebound in Germany in order to conceal its connection to the Royal Library. The book was later sold for €94,300.

After ‘cleaning’ the books, Burius approached dealers in Germany under the pseudonym Karl Fields, a nod to the Swedish poet Karlfeldt. The auction house Ketterer Kunst, Burius claimed, only required the seller to sign an assurance of ownership and made no effort to check the provenance of the works offered for sale. Ketterer Kunst maintains that they did nothing wrong in selling the books as Burius had confirmed that the books were his.

In June 2012, one of the most important stolen objects resurfaced in New York. The Cornelius Wytfliet atlas that contains one of the earliest maps of North America was offered for sale by W. Graham Arder III. He in turn had purchased it in good faith from Sotheby’s in 2003 for $100,000; its current value was estimated at $450,000. Mr Arder returned the book to Sotheby’s who reimbursed him in full and later returned it to the Royal Library after negotiations. Whilst it is hoped that this find will encourage other books to resurface, most of these books have now been legally acquired by ‘good faith’ purchasers and it is uncertain whether the Royal Library will be able to recreate its marred collections.




Bibliotekstjuven (The Library Thief), originally aired January 2011

November 19, 2011

New Zealand: Prison Term Begins for Thief of National Army Museum

by Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Blog New Zealand Correspondent

Yesterday, Friday 18 November, in New Zealand one of the more prolific and long-lasting insider thieves in New Zealand’s cultural and military history begins a prison term.

Keith Davies

Keith Davies was a serving soldier in the New Zealand army for 30 years and, upon his retirement from active service after an illness in the 1990s, his considerable knowledge of New Zealand’s military history saw him secure a job at New Zealand’s National Army Museum situated in Waiouru, in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island.

He served at the museum from 1995 to 2002, being responsible for, amongst other duties, storage and inventorying the Museum’s medal collection, and corresponding with the families of donors. The collection had been built up over many years, and containing medals and other items donated to the Museum by soldiers and their families. Davies’s seniority and knowledge of the Museum’s systems enabled him to cover his thefts both whilst he was employed at the Museum, and for eight years after he left, by altering records and replacing medals with other similar medals, so as to maintain the illusion that sets of medals had not been broken up.

Overall, he stole 750 medals, sold at least 131 to buyers around the world, and had about 270 still in his possession when he was arrested in Australia earlier this year. Around 350 medals are still missing. One estimate put the value of the stolen medals at of NZ$236,515.00. But the prosecutor said to the Court at sentencing that:
“The greatest effect was on the trust of the people who donated medals and other artefacts to the museum for the benefit of the cultural history of New Zealand.”
The New Zealand Army Museum, Waiouru.
His defence lawyer claimed that Davies could not account for why he stole the medals, noting that the thefts began when he took the medals home to clean and mount them, but then did not return them. The sentencing Judge characterised the thefts as “premeditated, ongoing and organised”, and noted the “gross, wholesale and ongoing abuse of trust.”

Davies was sentenced to three years in prison, and ordered to pay reparation of NZ$50,000 immediately, to be funded by raising finance against a home in Sydney, Australia. Under New Zealand’s parole laws, Davies will serve one year before appearing for the first time before the Parole Board.

The Museum announced that it would continue to search world-wide for the missing medals, saying that pictures of the missing medals would be displayed on the Museum’s website at, although at time of writing the pictures had not yet appeared. Nor, indeed, is there yet any mention on the website of the thefts!

The Museum is, unfortunately, no stranger to the theft of medals – on 2 December 2007 smash and grab burglars stole 96 medals from glass display cases, including 9 Victoria Crosses. On 18 February 2008 all the medals stolen in this raid were recovered, after payment of a reward of NZ$300,000, half of which was itself also recovered – a case-study the writer presented to ARCA’s 2011 Art Crime Conference in Amelia, Italy. It seems possible that investigative work triggered by that theft revealed Davies’s unconnected but earlier crimes.

Judge Arthur Tompkins is a District Court Judge in New Zealand, and teaches Art in War in Italy each year at ARCA’s Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.

January 26, 2011

Glasgow Police Recover A Corot and Two Other Paintings Stolen from Glasgow Museums but not Reported to Interpol's Stolen Art Database

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

The Herald in Scotland reported today that police have recovered a painting by French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and two other works (a landscape by the Scottish Post-Impressionist painter Samuel Peploe and another work by the Italian Renaissance painter Federico Barocci) that were "linked" to thefts of art from museums in Scotland in the 1990s.

A curator recognized Wooded Landscape with Figures by Corot in an auction catalogue last November, The Herald reported in "Exclusive: Police recover stolen art".

This Corot painting was not listed on Interpol's Stolen Art Database as one of the 16 Corot paintings reported stolen between 1972 and 2008 from Canada, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovenia. The retrieved Corot landscape was once part of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which features French Impressionists and 17th-century Dutch and Flemish Paintings. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow was closed for renovation from 2003 to 2006.

The article speculates that a member of the Glasgow City Council may have been involved in selling art from the Glasgow Museums due to the poor inventory controls. The investigation continues.

In addition to theft, Corot's art is one of the "most faked," according to Freemanart Consultancy which advertises itself as an expert in the fine art of authentication. Corot himself signed many faked and copied works by either his pupils or those of his artistic friends who needed money, according to Freemanart Consultancy.

Photos: Young Girl Leaning on Left Elbow (top) and Girl Musing by a Fountain (bottom), as titled in Interpol's Stolen Art Database, were two paintings by Corot taken from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972 and remain missing.

November 1, 2010

Former National Archives Department Head Under Investigation

A former department head at the National archives is under federal investigation after Federal agents searched his home last week.  Leslie Waffen had worked at the national archives for 40 years, heading the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video unit. Federal agents seized material from his home last Tuesday and searched his home. There are no details yet about what kinds of items were recovered.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld is quoted in the TBD piece detailing the investigation last week: "The threat is there. Incidences have transpired and they continue to transpire, and my job is to, A, investigate active cases and, B, educate the public".  Brachfeld offers more details on the National Archives Archival Recovery Team (ART) in the fall volume of the Journal of Art Crime, which will be available in early December. To subscribe see  

The Wright Brothers missing Airplane patent
One of the biggest challenges for the National Archives is its role as a repository for the people. It is open to the public, but it contains a massive amount of material. Much of this has not been systematically inventoried. By way of example there are stores of government documents in salt mines in Hutchinson Kansas.  Stored there are dismantled pieces of the hospital room where President John F. Kennedy was treated after he was shot. Given all of this material, and the access the public has, one of the biggest problems will always be insider thefts. The problem of the employees of the archives taking valuable objects and keeping or selling them.  The Government Accountability office recently issued a report on the National Archives after items had gone missing.  Lost items include the Wright Brothers patent for the first airplane, Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton gin, a copy of President Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech, as well as target maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

These insider thefts are a betrayal of one's profession, but also rob future generations of these important pieces of their past.  To see a truly staggering list of missing documents, look at this list of missing historical documents and items.
  1. Elahe Izadi, National Archives agents raid home of Leslie Waffen, former archives department head, TBD, October 29, 2010, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  2. Audit Shows Records At National Archives At Risk : NPR, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  3. U.S. GAO - National Archives and Records Administration: Oversight and Management Improvements Initiated, but More Action Needed, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  4. Faye Fiore, Guardians of the nation's attic - Los Angeles Times, L.A. Times, August 8, 2010, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).