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August 3, 2019

Still Missing: Remembering the theft at the Sonobudoyo Museum

This blog post revisits the case of theft of the Sonobudoyo Museum in Yogyakarta, which occured on On August 11, 2010.  Nine years after the burglary, authorities have still found no traces of any of the stolen objects and the theft is considered to be the largest museum collection loss in the history of Indonesia. 

In total some eighty-seven pieces, many dating from the the 8th and 9th centuries from the Medang Empire or Mataram Kingdom, a Javanese Hindu–Buddhist kingdom that flourished between the 8th and 11th centuries, were stolen.   

On the evening before the theft was detected, Tuesday, August 10, 2010, the Sonobudoyo Museum was open until 10pm for a shortened version of Wayang Kulit, an Indonesian form of shadow puppetry, which described historic storylines executed by a dhalang, or puppet master. 

The theft however was not detected until the morning of Wednesday, August 11, 2010, when the museum opened.  Staffer Bambang Suprayogi, became suspicious when he discovered broken glass in his office adjacent to the collection storage location which in turn led to broken glass from three of the museum’s glass display cabinets.   

Examining the crime scene, police found that the thief or thieves may have entered through a broken window but failed to find any of the perpetrators' fingerprints.  Later it was determined that the alarm system and CCTV were not functional for an extended period of time. 

Some of the objects which were stolen include:

» a gold mask,
» 19 gold plates,
» a gold crown,
» numerous necklaces,
» and a Dhyani Buddha statue made of gold-plated bronze.

To date law enforcement investigations have not identified the culprits or recovered the stolen objects.  In 2011 investigators focused on security irregularities and suspicions converged on two museum employees however no charges have ever been formally brought.  Some believe the theft occurred over an extended period of time and not simply during one specific evening.