Showing posts with label art thief. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art thief. Show all posts

February 16, 2017

Recovered: Here's lookin' at you kid. Stolen in Italy and found in Casablanca.

Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist
and Gregory Healer" (1639)
oil on canvas 293x184.5 cm

Stolen in Modena, Italy on August 10-11, 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo, the painting "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer" by Guercino has been recovered in Morocco.*

At the time of the theft, if was believed that the art thief had hidden himself away inside the church until everyone had departed after the afternoon Sunday mass. The parish priest of San Vincenzo noticed something was afoot when he passed by the church the following morning and came across the primary door of the church open, with no signs of forced entry. This door was not equipped with an external mechanism for opening so either the thief waited inside after the mass had concluded or he had gained entry through a secondary door at the rear of the church.

When the theft was announced to the public Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi criticised the Curia's for its lack of security, especially in light of the numerous petty thefts which had plagued nearby churches in the city recently.  He estimated that the stolen painting, by the an Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, best known as Guercino, or Il Guercino, could be worth as much as five to six million euros, though he stated clearly that there was no market for stolen, easily identifiable religious works of art.  

Replica of "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer"
inside the Church of San Vincenzo

The city of Modena and the church's priest and patrons were heartbroken. Not only had their painting been in the church since it was constructed, but the church itself stood near the city's courthouse, which is guarded round the clock. How was it that no one noticed anyone exiting the church with a painting under their arm?

This no one could say. 

Flash forward to February 2017 where three fences offer the historic painting to a wealthy businessman in Casablanca, Morocco for a cool 10 million dirhams (€940,000). Recognizing Guercino's masterpiece, the man declined and alerted the police judiciaire du Hay Hassani de Casablanca who then arrested the three suspects. One of the three, possibly the original thief, was a Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Italy for a considerable period of time.  

Here's lookin' at you police judiciaire du Hay Hassani. (**) Bogart, 'Casablanca'


Update: * The procedure for restitution is now under way between the Moroccan authorities and the Italian Embassy in Morocco.

February 15, 2017

Boston University Students Foil Art Gallery Robbery

Galerie D’Orsay owner Susan Hirshberg (CAS’90) with the Questrom students
who stopped a robbery at her gallery after the Super Bowl: Chris Savino (Questrom’17),
Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom’17), Hirshberg, and Jesse Doe (Questrom’17).

Guest Writer: Rich Barlow
Originally published in: BU Today

Chris Savino’s hometown of Ridgefield, Conn., was found to be “the safest town in America” last year by an online database of neighborhoods. But college is supposed to expand your horizons, and Boston exposed Savino and two fellow Questrom School of Business seniors face-to-face with a crime in the making last week.

They were the crime-fighters, thwarting an art gallery heist.

Walking back to campus after midnight February 6 from the Boston Common, where thousands of New England Patriots fans had been celebrating the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons just hours before, Savino (Questrom’17), Jesse Doe (Questrom’17), and Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom’17) came upon a man emerging from the smashed glass door of Galerie d’Orsay on Newbury Street [in Boston, Massachusetts] with five artworks worth $45,000. They chased and held 29-year-old Jordan Russell Leishman until a passing policeman arrested him for breaking and entering.

Arraigned in Boston Municipal Court, Leishman is being held without bail for a previous assault case, according to the Boston Globe. He’s also wanted in New Hampshire on a charge of narcotics possession.

Galerie d’Orsay’s managing partner happens to be a Terrier too. Sallie Hirshberg (CAS’90) met the three students for the first time this past Saturday at the gallery, where she’d arranged an interview with BU Today. (She lives in Florida and was in Boston for business.)

“I’m Sallie—thank you so much!” Hirshberg greeted the three students as they entered, hugging Thompson, who at 6-foot-3 had to bend down for the embrace. His size was crucial in foiling the robbery. The trio had chosen to return to campus via Newbury Street instead of nearby, more boisterous Boylston Street. “We were pretty much the only people there, except for a couple walking down the street,” Thompson says.

And except for Leishman.

The gallery’s surveillance video shows he had smashed the glass in the door, which opens into a small vestibule with an inner door. (The police report about the incident says rocks were found in the vestibule, and that both of Leishman’s hands had cuts.) He broke the glass in that door, too, then waited a good 20 minutes, Hirshberg says (perhaps to see if he’d tripped an alarm, she speculates). Finally, he wandered into the gallery, removing from the walls etchings by Picasso and Rembrandt and lithographs by Joan Miró and Marc Chagall.

“He took from Chagall’s most important body of work,” a lithograph from the Russian-French master’s Daphnis and Chloé series, she says. That piece, worth $18,000, is the most expensive he tried to snatch.

“He had good taste…he pulled a Miró, a Rembrandt, and two Chagalls,” she notes, but he passed up far more expensive works, among them a $90,000 Picasso and a Rembrandt valued at the same amount.

Leishman’s break-in triggered a motion-sensitive alarm, Hirshberg says. He left the largest of the artworks at the front door and proceeded down the steps with the other four, just as the BU students, with Thompson and Doe in the lead, were walking toward the gallery.

“I thought to myself, oh, he might be an employee just working there,” Thompson says. “But once we got right in front of the store, we heard the alarm, we saw the smashed glass, and he comes out with the paintings.” In a matter-of-fact tone, Thompson describes what he said to Doe: “‘I think he just stole those. We should probably do something.’”

They sprinted after Leishman. “He tried to book it,” dropping the paintings, Thompson says. But he wasn’t fast enough for Thompson, who caught him at the corner of Newbury and Berkeley Streets and grabbed him from behind in a bear hug. Acting on adrenaline, none of the pursuers had thought about whether Leishman might be armed, but as Thompson held him, his quarry tried to reach in his pockets. “I thought he might have been reaching for a weapon or something, so I pushed him up against a US mailbox on the corner, trying to pin his arms.” (The police report doesn’t mention Leishman having a weapon.)

Thompson says Leishman protested: “Why are you holding me so tight? You can let me go, I’m not going to run away.” Meanwhile, Savino held the paintings aloft to flag down a passing police car. When the officer approached, Thompson says, Leishman “tried pinning it on us, saying we jumped him.” The officer, obviously, didn’t buy it.

The three students were home by about 1 a.m., although the officer later called Thompson for more information. The police returned the paintings to the gallery, Hirshberg says, and called its operations director, who happened to be returning to Boston on a wee-hours flight. She had the broken doors boarded up to secure the gallery.

According to Hirshberg, the artwork was undamaged save for the gold-leaf frames, which will cost about $5,000 to repair. This was the first attempted robbery in the gallery’s 16 years. It also may be a footnote in Boston history: the officer told Thompson that during all that night’s raucous Super Bowl celebrating, this was the only arrest made in the city.

“I texted my parents later that night,” Savino says. Not wanting to worry them in the safest town in America, he began his text, “Everything’s OK,” before describing the experience. “I got a call five seconds later from my mom—you know, ‘What happened? What happened?’”

While Questrom might seem a little gray-flannel for such heroics—Doe plans to work at an accounting firm after graduation—this was Thompson’s second brush with crime-fighting. As a freshman, he witnessed two guys slashing car tires and yanking hubcaps off an auto at a tire shop on Comm Ave; he called police and drove around in the cop car until they found the suspects and arrested them.

The coincidence of the heroes being from Hirshberg’s alma mater registered less, she says, than the fact that she “was just so grateful. For them to step up and see something that was happening that wasn’t right, and to make it right, was just unbelievable.” In an age not renowned for kindness, she says, the Terrier trio wowed her with “a nice act of humanity.”

To express her gratitude, she’s asked the three students to an upcoming invitation-only opening at the gallery, where she says they can each choose an artwork as a thank-you gift. She’s offered to help them choose, which, given their status as business rather than art appreciation students, was welcome. “I wouldn’t call myself an art aficionado,” Thompson confesses.

Nothing wrong with business students, says Hirshberg: “I probably wouldn’t have the gallery if I hadn’t married the guy in my finance class at BU.”

October 2, 2015

Mystery Surrounding the Murder of Art Thief Sebastiano Magnanini

The Regent's Canal and entrance to the Islington Tunnel 
Murdered in North London, then bound and tied to a shopping cart in attempt to keep his copse submerged under water, Sebastiano Magnanini's badly decomposed body was discovered by a passerby near an Islington tunnel on the Regent’s Canal not far from King's Cross a little over a week ago. The area where the victim's body was recovered is popular among boaters, some of whom live in houseboats which dot the sides of the canal.  The footpath is also popular among walkers and cyclists looking to escape the capital’s busy streets.  

This is all authorities have released about the grisly demise of Venetian art thief once jailed for 18 months for his part in the 1993 theft of the 1732 painting The Education of the Virgin by Italian Rococo  artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from the church of Santa Maria della Fava, also originally known as Santa Maria della Consolazione, in the sestiere of Castello in Venice, Italy.

Described by his friends and family as a free spirit, Magnanini, was a resident of the Cannaregio quarter in Venice but lived outside of Italy. He changed countries as the mood or work suited him.  In 2003 he moved to Plaistow, east London, then later to Thailand and Vietnam embracing a free-spirit hippy lifestyle and making ends meet by teaching English.  Later he moved to Cambodia where he worked briefly as a tour guide for an Italian company.  Then this summer he moved to the UK capital where he had begun working as a carpenter. 

Surveillance cameras in the area, used for the purpose of observing the zone show assailants attacking and then killing Magnanini.  Investigators with New Scotland Yard, who are handling the investigation do not believe that Magnanini's homicide is linked to organised crime, moreover his brother Matteo Magnanini also insisted his brother “Seba” was not involved in any criminal activity.  In an interview with The Evening Standard Matteo said 

Magnanini was sentenced in 1998 to 18 months in prison for his role as a bumbling one-time art thief in the theft of the Tiepolo artwork. Like many of Italy's churches, Santa Maria della Fava had no alarm or surveillance system and during the heist Magnanini simply hid inside the church until it closed for the evening, then cut the canvas painting from its altarpiece frame, and exited the church before heading to a nearby bar to smoke.   

The slightly damaged painting was recovered 3 months after the theft, rolled up and tied with a simple shoelace, hidden in a farmhouse near the city’s Marco Polo airport. 

Italian newspapers are speculating that Magnanini may have been the simple victim of a drug deal that went wrong.  Anyone with any information is asked to contact Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Reeves via the incident room on 020 8721 4868,  alternatively, the police non-emergency line on 101 or, if the wish to remain anonymous, via the UK's Crimestoppers line at 0800 555 111.

September 13, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015 - ,, No comments

Carmen Sandiego: celebrating 30 years of (fictional) art crime

Copyright 1994, DIC Entertainment/Program Exchange
By Hal Johnson, ARCA 2014 alum and ARCA Blog Contributor

What was your first introduction to art crime? It might be earlier than you think. If you grew up in the 1980’s and 90’s, chances are that Carmen Sandiego was the first art thief you ever heard of. The fictional star of the eponymous computer game and TV franchise, this trench-coat clad femme mystérieux (Figure 1) has been stealing the world’s treasures – and educating on the lam – for thirty years now.

Copyright 1989, Broderbund Software
Copyright 1989, Broderbund Software
The hunt began in 1985 with the release of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? by Brøderbund Software. Brøderbund’s products helped establish the home computer as the premier medium for electronic educational content. Sequels like Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?, Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego? and Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? soon followed. The premise changed little throughout the series; players are investigators for the ACME Detective Agency, dedicated to catching Carmen and her V.I.L.E. organization of world class thieves. You travel the globe, gathering geographical or historical clues from witnesses in order to track down the culprit (Figures 2 and 3). The earliest versions of the software included hard copy reference materials like Fodor’s Travel Guide. The series is remembered for its whimsical array of nefarious ne’er-do-wells: Patty Larceny, Lynn Gweeny, Ken Hartley Reed, and Sarah Nade to name a few. Players must also collect personal details about the suspects (male/female, hair and eye color, favorite food/hobbies/sports/authors) to compile a warrant for their arrest.

Copyright 1985, Broderbund Software
At a glance this many seem like a cleverly themed geography bee. But it is much more than simply memorizing countries and their capitals. The Carmen Sandiego franchise actually educates kids in a unique and exciting way – through art crime! Carmen and her V.I.L.E. henchmen are no ordinary thieves. If world geography is the setting, theft of cultural heritage is the plot device. At the beginning of each case, players receive alerts such as “George Washington's axe stolen by masked female.” A gargoyle from Notre Dame Cathedral was one of the stolen items in the original 1985 computer game (Figure 4). Museum-quality treasures are not the only pilfered items. Fantastically large monuments and even natural heritage sites are targeted as well: “Pueblo Bonito stolen from North America in 950 AD,” or “Crater Lake stolen by masked male.” The game teaches players where these treasures are from as well as their cultural and historical significance. And ACME’s cases are closed with a simpler ending than we often see in the real world – Carmen’s loot is always returned to its place of origin. 

Photo courtesy of WQED, WGBH, New Yor
The computer games’ commercial success spawned three television series that all aired in the 1990’s. I fondly remember watching Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in middle school and singing along with its theme song performed by Rockapella. In keeping with the creators’ witty humor, one episode called “Art So Nice they Stole it Twice” featured a fictional theft of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The original PBS game show (Figure 5) and its sequel both starred Tony Award winner Lynne Thigpen as ACME’s Chief. An animated Saturday morning cartoon was also produced with stage and screen legend Rita Moreno as the voice of Carmen. Since the 2000’s, new editions of Carmen’s capers have been released on video games consoles like Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii. And the adventure continues! In 2015 Carmen Sandiego Returns was released for download on Windows 8, thirty years after she first became an international fugitive.
Did Carmen Sandiego imprint the image of the glamorous art thief on an entire generation of kids, myself included? Arguably so. What is certain is that she revolutionized at-home edutainment. To my knowledge, the art thief image had never before been used as a gimmick to teach kids basic facts about the world. Certainly not on such a large scale. It is lucky for new generations of youngsters that she has managed to remain at large all these years. Her current publisher sums up her future (not to mention ARCA’s mission) perfectly: “Will we ever catch Carmen? Who knows? Will we ever stop trying? Never! Why? Because through the pursuit we learn!” 

July 23, 2015

Book Review: Catherine Schofield Sezgin on "The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth" by Ben Macintyre

Catherine Schofield Sezgin reviews "The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth" by Ben Macintyre in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crimeedited by Noah Charney (with Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis) and published by ARCA:

Ben Macintyre’s 1997 book, The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth is written by the journalist who pro- duced Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal, an empathetic view of a triple agent during World War II. In the preface, Macintyre explains that he found the story of Worth in the archives of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Los Angeles by chance when he saw a 1902 “fragment of a newsprint” from the Sunday Oregonian in Portland that claimed “Adam Worth, Greatest Thief of Modern Times; Stole $3,000,000.”

Macintyre explains: 
The detectives, I soon learned, had hunted Worth across the world for decades with dogged perseverance, and the result was a wealth of documentation: six complete chronological folders, tied together with string and bulging with photographs, letters, newspaper articles, and hundreds of memos by the Pinkerton detectives, each one written in meticulous copperplate and relating a tale even more intriguing and peculiar than the nameless Sunday Oregonian writer had implied.
For Adam Worth, it transpired, was for more than simply a talented crook. A professional charlatan, he was that most feared of Victorian bogeymen: the double man, the charming rascal, the respectable and civilized Dr. Jekyll by day whose villainy emerged only under cover of night. Worth made a myth of his own life, building a thick smokescreen of wealth and possessions to cover a multitude of crimes that had started with picking pockets and desertion and later expanded to include safecracking on an industrial scale, international forgery, jewel theft, and highway robbery. The Worth dossiers revealed a vivid rogues’ gallery of crooks, aristocrats, con men, molls, mobsters, and policeman, all revolving around this singular man. In minute detail the detectives described his criminal network, radi- ating out of Paris and London and stretching from Jamaica to South Africa, from America to Turkey. 
Catherine Schofield Sezgin is editor of the blog for the Association of Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) and a 2009 graduate of its certificate program in International Art Crime. 

Here's a link to ARCA's website about access to The Journal of Art Crime.

October 9, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013 - , 3 comments

What Happened When Myles J. Connor, Jr. Spoke at the Milton Art Center in MA

Myles J. Connor, Jr. & columnist Suzette Martinez Standring
By Suzette Martinez Standring (

The flak and hubbub have subsided about the rare public talk on Sept. 26 in Milton (MA) by Myles J. Connor, Jr., one of the most notorious art thieves in heist history. This is what happened. For starters, Myles had assumed it was going to be a small Milton High School alumni gathering, not a general public event. Wrong! That’s a great big oopsie one hour before show time.

I met him and his longtime friend and music producer Al Dotoli, for the first time over dinner, and the misunderstanding surprised me, too. Myles sat quietly, picking at his seafood salad, mulling over the sudden change of scenery. At age 69, he had come prepared to chat with alumni pals about high school memories and now he discovered he would be in front of strangers talking about art heists and his criminal past at the Milton Art Center.

Myles J. Connor, Jr. had been convicted and served over twenty years at various times for museum and estate art heists throughout New England. Although convictions for murder and rape were disproved and overturned, many still believe his guilt. He’s a bank robber to boot, thus, the angry protests and criticisms leading up to his talk.

He had qualms, but what about mine? I couldn’t walk into a room full of media and attendees without him!

How many past accomplices - like me now at the restaurant - have ever sworn to Myles, “It wasn’t me! I swear it wasn’t a set up!”  Something went wrong along the chain of contacts in reaching him. How a public talk about art crime got mixed up with the Milton High School Class of 1961 is beyond me.

Myles was genial and charming, keenly interested in my motivation, which was simple. “If every expert and book about art heists talks about you, then can’t we hear you talk about it directly?”  I blabbed away with nothing to hide, and I held my breath. OK, he’d go and would not censor any questions, no matter what people asked, but if folks got hostile, he would leave early.  Done!

Later at the Milton Art Center Myles spoke matter-of-factly about his life and his past crimes. For example, in his youth his first-ever heist at the Forbes House Museum was fueled by payback for a false theft accusation of antique firearms leveled at his dad, an honorable and decorated police officer.

Myles brought up murder. He talked about evidence not produced at his first trial that led to a 17-minute jury verdict of acquittal at his second trial.  He speculated that the paintings stolen about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are in Saudi Arabia. He was in prison at the time of the heist, and had nothing to do with the theft - but did admit to casing the Gardner Museum around 1988.

How did he steal priceless art from various museums? He shared a number of ways that worked for him.  If you didn’t go, then you missed the how-to, and I’m not offering a primer here.

Many in the audience who grew up with him, or knew his family enjoyed comical escapades from his childhood.

He answered several written questions from the audience with candor.

If you say your father was a kindly police officer and growing up in Milton was great, then what caused you to turn to a life of crime?

Myles said, “I know exactly why that happened.”

As a very young man, he served time in Walpole among tough, dangerous, and older inmates, and described prison as a “terrible place,” where one needs friendships to survive. Myles admitted his loyalty didn’t allow him to say no to such friends, even if the request involved crimes, and his criminal career grew from there.

I myself had a burning question: If you say you love art and you have a visceral reaction, like many others, to seeing great art, then how do you reconcile stealing that kind of beauty from the public and taking away their chances to experience it?

Myles said he rarely took exhibited museum art, but rather stole from storage areas where paintings often remain for years unseen. He often used heisted art as a bargaining chip for getting decreased prison time for others or for himself. (However, his autobiography written with Jenny Siler, The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Art Thief indicates negotiation was not always the sole purpose.)

Did he ever work with Whitey Bulger?

Myles said he knew but never worked with Bulger having been tipped off early on that the guys was nuts.

What is he doing now and does he have regrets?

“Only a fool has no regrets,” Myles said and seemed wistful when he shared how he thought he would become a doctor, however, his choices led him in a different direction. At age 69, he has medical problems.  His once famous singing career is over, and he lives largely alone in Blackstone with a score of pets – emus, dogs, cats, chickens, and a very old snake.

Obviously, Myles himself is responsible for the censure, fear, or arm’s length wariness of others throughout his life. Yet he still appeared at the Milton Art Center expecting the worst. Frankly, I did, too, so the evening held two surprises. Initially, he expected to have to hightail it out of there just ahead of clubs and torches after thirty minutes.  He stayed for two hours. The audience was astonished and appreciated his candor, and Myles was moved by the unexpected kindness in the way people spoke to him.

He never left early that night, because no one would let him.

What would you have asked him?

Email Suzette Martinez Standring: 
She is syndicated with GateHouse Media, and this column appeared on her award winning national blog:
Check out more photos from Myles Connor’s talk on Suzette Martinez Standring's FB page.

The Milton Art Center ( is a community hub for creative arts and classes, art exhibits, and enrichment programs for adults and children. They are located at 334 Edge Hill Road, Milton, MA  02186.