Showing posts with label Museum thefts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Museum thefts. Show all posts

November 13, 2020

Exhibiting Absence: Introducing Samsung’s Missing Masterpieces

Bringing the wider public's attention to works of art that have been stolen or lost has been a long-standing goal of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.  But when Samsung reached out to us earlier this Autumn to curate a group of missing masterpieces, to be exhibited on The Frame TV, we combed through more than a hundred of the world’s most iconic and intriguing lost and stolen artworks before narrowing our selection down to a choice and meaningful handful.  

Some of these paintings, despite wide press coverage, have been missing for years, others were stolen in extraordinary heists. Sometimes the works were stolen in more banal circumstances and the fact that they may never be seen again makes their loss all the more poignant.   One painting was the art world's first victim of the Covid Pandemic, stolen on the artist’s birthday.   Others are artworks we selected because we know they are cherished locally, but lessor known to communities outside the artists' home countries.  In whittling down our selection, we knew our list would not have been complete, had we not addressed the subject of precious works of art which are lost to the world's eyes forever, artistic casualties lost to mankind's wars. 


Harnessing Samsung's power of technology to connect people in the search to find lost art from the comfort of their living rooms was a key goal of the Missing Masterpieces exhibition.  Scheduled to run from 12 November until 10 February, during the holiday season, our combined objective is to keep the global community searching for these missing masterpieces while scrolling through films and programs.  It only takes one valid clue to change the course of an investigation and return a fabulous work of art to its rightful owner placing it back on the wall, in its proper setting. 

Museums normally tell stories through the objects they have in their collections.  Samsung's initiative will allow everyone to step into ARCA's empty museum, to engage and reflect, to see and to learn, not looking at the art we have, but rather, exploring the precious art we haven’t, in the hopes that they might be found.

To learn more about The Frame TV which functions both as a TV and a multi-media art platform blending into home décor please visit the Missing Masterpieces website here.

If you have tips on where any of these artworks might be you can share them on social media using #MissingMasterpieces, or please write to us at: 

missingmasterpieces@artcrimeresearch.org

All leads will be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement authority.

April 24, 2019

4 of 6 individuals, believed to be tied to a Pink Panther operating cell, head to trail in the jewel heist at the Doge's Palace in Venice.


Following up on the museum jewel heist which occurred during the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition at the Doge's Palace in Venice in January 2018.   

On January 3, 2018 jewelry worth an estimated €2m (£1.7m) was stolen from a display case at the museum palace of the Doge of Venice during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery which occurred shortly after ten in the morning on the last day of the exhibition. Taken during the theft were a pair of pear-shaped 30.2-carat diamond earrings in a platinum setting along with an equally weighty 10 carat, grade D diamond and ruby pendant brooch.  Both items belonged to His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, who is the first cousin of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.  

According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, the Italian authorities had long suspected that the thieves behind the museum theft might have had inside help and were likely part of a criminal network made up of associates from the former Yugoslavia, sometimes referred to as "the Pink Panthers".  This network, working in small yet coordinated cells, are believed to be responsible for some 200+ robberies spanning 35 countries over the last two decades.  Some thefts, like that at the Doge's palace, have been discreet, 60-second affairs.  Others have been armed robberies or have involved automobiles being rammed into glass storefronts.  In total the thieves are believed to have made off with an estimated €500 million in jewels and gemstones, much of which has never been recovered.

But everyone knows that good police work sometimes requires patience. 

Following months of investigations by the mobile squad of the Venice Police Headquarters and the  Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, working alongside prosecutor Raffaele Incardona, six suspects were ultimately identified by the Italian authorities. Between November 7 and November 8, 2018 five of these men, including four Croatians and one Serb, were taken into custody in Croatia in a coordinated action involving Police Directorates in Zagreb and Istra based upon European arrest warrants issued for the suspect's related to their alleged involvement in the Venice museum theft. 

Five of those named by Italian authorities are believed to have visited the Doge's Palace in Venice on two test-run occasions prior to the actual theft.  Their first visit occurred on December 30, 2018 and their second on the day before the robbery.   Each time the team apparently tried to steal jewelry from the exhibition without success or were practicing in advance of the final event. 

Vinko Tomic
The brains behind the heist is purported to be 60-year-old Vinko Tomic, who goes by several other names, including Vinko Osmakčić and Juro Markelic.  No stranger to crime Tomic has already been connected with other million dollar hits.  Tomic has been implicated in the thefts of $1m worth of diamond watches in Honolulu, the heist of the $1m Millennium Necklace in Las Vegas, the filching of three rings, collectively worth £2m in London, and other high value jewel heists in Hong Kong, Monaco and Switzerland.  

When appearing in court in connection with one prior offense, Tomic made a statement to the presiding judge that he was a war veteran originally from the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina who was wounded in battle in 1995 and who fled, first to Croatia and later to Germany.  There,  unable to find work, he stated he eventually turned to a life of crime, though he managed to provide for his family and put his brother through school. 

For Italian law enforcement their biggest break in the case came as a result of a slip up on the part of the gang's leader.  According to chief prosecutor Bruno Cherchi, the Venice police chief Danilo Gagliardi, and Alessandro Giuliano, director of the Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, who spoke at a press conference on the investigation, officers identified a Facebook photo of Tomic wearing an identical ring to the one he was wearing when captured on CCTV footage at the Doge's Palace in Venice. 

Tomic's alleged accomplices to the Venice jewel theft are listed here:

Zvonko Grgić
Zvonko Grgić (age 43) whose now static Facebook profile lists him as an armed security contractor available for global security around the world. 

Želimir Grbavac
Želimir Grbavac, (age 48), who, according to Croatian news sources appears to have lived a discreet existence, operating an electrician business. 

Vladimir Đurkin (age 48), also Croatian.

and two Serbs, Dragan Mladenović (age 54) and Goran Perović (age 48).

Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were arrested on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 in Zagreb, while Đurkin was brought in for questioning in Istria. Mladenović was initially apprehended near the Serb-Croatian border and detained in Croatian police custody, only to escape while in police custody via a bathroom window on November 8, 2018.  How this happened while he was in police custody has been subject to controversy. 

On the basis of their European arrest warrants, three of the Croatians, Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were quickly transferred to Italy to stand trial. 

A month and a half after their arrest in Croatia, on December 23, 2019 Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac made their initial appearance in Italian court before preliminary investigations judge David Calabria and maintained their right to remain silent.  Vinko Tomic was represented by lawyers Guido Simonetti and Simone Zancani.  Zvonko Grgić was represented by lawyer Marina Ottaviani and Želimir Grbavac was represented by lawyer Mariarosa Cozza.  

Fighting his extradition, Vladimir Đurkin was finally transferred to the Italian authorities on February 8, 2019.  The presiding judge has ruled that all four defendants will remain in custody at the prison of Santa Maria Maggiore in Venice pending the outcome of their upcoming trial. 

Serbian Dragan Mladenović and the final identified accomplice, Goran Perović, are believed to be in Serbia where they are untouchable by a European Arrest Warrant, a Convention which governs extradition requests between the 28 member states that make up the European Union (EU).  With no agreement between Italy and Serbia on judicial cooperation, there seems little chance that these two remaining accomplices will be extradited to Italy to stand trial.

And His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's jewels? 

International insurers Lloyd's of London has indemnified the Al Thani Foundation, as the owner of the stolen brooch and earrings and has payed out a claim of 8 million and 250 thousand dollars making the firm the owners of the jewellery, should they be recovered.  As a result the insurers will likely become a civil party in the future trial of the alleged perpetrators.

Unfortunately the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" have never been found. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 6, 2018

Museum Theft Update: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Eight months into the investigation, Italian news sites have begun reporting more details on the band of thieves believed to be behind the theft of part of the jewellry collection of Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani. The jewels were stolen from an alcove just off of the Sala della Scrutinio at the Palazzo Ducale during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery from the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition on January 3rd.

Reconstructing the events surrounding the 10 am theft on the final day of the exhibition authorities have apparently discussed their hypothesis with one or more members of the Italian press. 
According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, it is believed that the thieves may be members of a Croatian and Serbian criminal network which specialized in high value thefts, known to have commited other offenses in Italy and other countries.  No information is given in Mediaset's formal article several hours after Mimun's tweet, nor in La Repubblica's subsequent article as to why authorities believe the squad is made up of Serb and Croat nationals or indicating what information aside from general speculation would lead to this assumption.


During the January 3, 2018 incident, two thieves, one serving as lookout, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie, and a second serving as principal actor, took a remarkable 20 seconds to open, then pocket a pair of teardrop diamond earrings and a heavy brooch made up of diamonds, rubies, gold, and platinum.


Given that the display case and its alarm failed to activate or activate in a timely manner when the glass case was breached, it is reasonable to assume that the pair of thieves might have had insider help.  Perhaps from someone either connected to the museum with knowledge of or access to the exhibitions alarm systems as they were expressly installed for this specific exhibit and in normal circumstances would have been expected to sound an alarm as soon as the display case was opened which would allow time for the perimeter to have been sealed.

Gone in a Bling

In the CCTV camera footage a clean-shaven man wearing a hooded puffer jacket and casual pants, sporting a traditional coppola style flat cap, can be seen at first viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals, one of whom is believed to have served as a lookout.


Once the room clears of potential witnesses, the thief, working quickly and discreetly, but in full view of the CCTV camera, opens the glass door on the case and pockets the jewellry in the pocket of his jacket.  Afterwards the pair calmly blend back in with the rest of the museum's patrons, and casually exit the Doge's Palace before security has time to apprehend them. 

Given that the security for this event was specifically requested and installed as a condition of the exhibition of the Sheik's jewels, it is reasonable to believe that the culprits were practiced experts, perhaps those who also had advance knowledge of the Doge's security routine, and the timing it would take for security to react to their breach.

Whether or not Mediaset was referring to a network of jewel thieves known as "The Pink Panthers", an elusive gang of jewel thieves which is believed to have members from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is unclear. This sometimes violent network of jewel thieves are believed to be responsible for more than 200 high value robberies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  For fifteen years this network of Balkan jewel thieves have committed audacious heists, sometimes by violent means as depicted in the real-life surveillance footage shown in the documentary “Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers.” 


As in the Venice heist Pink Panther thefts usually involve prior preparation and advanced skill, often casting nondescript individuals to case locations of potential robberies prior to their execution.  In one particularly dramatic theft on May 19, 2003 at Graff on New Bond Street in London a member of the group was able to make off with more than thirty million dollars’ worth of diamonds at in less than three minutes.

Whether or not the Doge's Palace Museum theft is related to the Pink Panthers is unclear, but should they be, they will likely benefit from the inventive perpetrators uncanny ability to fence traceable high-end goods. In the past law enforcement authorities have indicated that the Panther network consisted of between twenty and thirty experienced thieves at any given time, with facilitators in various cities providing logistical assistance.   Often, stolen diamonds end up in Antwerp as well as among the collections of indifferent clients in wealthy countries like Italy, France, Russia and Switzerland.



January 6, 2018

Diamonds are a thief's best friend: The stolen objects from Doge's Palace identified


The jewelry stolen during the Doge's Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) robbery this week were modern compositions created by one of the foremost contemporary jewelry designers in the world.  Considered by some to be the world’s greatest living jeweller, the objects were created by the spectacularly gifted, Mumbai-based, artisan Viren Bhagat whose work has been characterised as a contemporary synthesis of traditional Mughal motifs and 1920s Cartier Art Deco.  

Bhagat comes from an artisan family who has been in the Indian jewelry business for more than one hundred years. He is one of only two contemporary jewelers, the second being Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR), whose works are included in Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's extravagant collection of  more than 400 pieces of Indian jewelry and jeweled artifacts spanning four centuries. 

Bhagat produces only a small number of breathtaking pieces each year using only precious stones to stay true to the aesthetic of historic Indian jewelry.  Each of his designs are first pencil-sketched, then precisely produced.  All of his jewelry pieces are one of a kind originals and none of his jewelry is created on commission. 

What makes Bhagat popular with wealthy jewelry lovers worldwide (some 60 percent of his work is purchased outside of India) is his recognizably stylistic touches of western elegance in symmetry with eastern extravagance, making his pieces perfect for modern day maharajas.  

Given his recognition in the jewelry world some of his pieces reach well into seven figures. 

The pair of earrings stolen earlier this week from the Doge's Palace, pictured above, started with a simple, clear halo of asymmetrical flat-cut diamonds surrounding an eye-popping 30.2-carat nearly-colorless teardrop shape diamond mounted on a barely-there platinum setting.  


The stolen brooch-pendant features a 10.03-carat center diamond mined from the historic Golconda sultanate, surrounded by a double row of calibrated rubies and flat-cut diamond petals, the combination form the image of a Mogul lotus.  Below the centerpiece hangs a thirteen strand, proportioned tassel of diamond and ruby beads, a type of flourish occasionally found in Indian turban jewels. 

Described in the book Beyond Extravagance: A Royal Collection of Gems and Jewels, edited by Amin Jaffer, the former international director of Asian art at Christie’s, and current curator of the Al-Thani collection, the back of the brooch is said to be covered in pavé diamonds, echoing the extravagant Indian tradition of decorating the reverse side of jewelry as well as the front. Not your everyday Bollywood bling. 

NOTE:  The SCO - the Central Operations Service of the Police (Italian: Servizio Centrale Operativo) and the Scientific Police (Italian: Polizia Scientifica) will be assisting the investigators of the local Mobile Squad on this investigation. 

January 3, 2018

Museum Theft: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy


Shortly after 10 am this morning, on the last day of an exhibition at the Doge’s Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale), once the heart of the political life and public administration at the time of the Venetian Republic, jewel thieves broke into a display case and absconded with pieces of jewelry on temporary display in Venice.

Promoted by Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, the exhibition was curated by Amin Jaffer, Senior Curator of the private collection, and Gian Carlo Calza, a distinguished Italian scholar of East Asian art.  The exhibition, titled "Treasures of the Mughals and Maharaja" brought together 270+ pieces of Indian jewelry, covering four centuries of India's heritage, owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, CEO of Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company (QIPCO), the Qatari mega-holding company.  

Sheikh Al-Thani is the first cousin of Qatar's Emir, and began acquiring pieces for his now-extensive jewelry collection after visiting an exhibition of Indian art in 2009 at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.


Some of the bejeweled pieces on display at the Doge's Palace included encrusted jewelry with diamonds, rubies, jade, pearls and emeralds, once owned by India's great maharajas, nizams and emperors.  Founded by Babur after his conquest of much of Northern India, the pieces from the Mughal dynasty date from the early 16th century to the mid 18th century, one of India's most opulent eras in jewelry composition.  

Additional pieces from the collection were created during the politically chaotic 18th century and from the British Raj period in the 19th century and were produced to appeal to wealthy British travelers and India's upper caste.  The collector's more extravagant contemporary objects on display include a necklace commissioned in 1937 by Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar and made by Jacques Cartier, which is said to rival the ruby and diamond necklace of Empress Marie-Louise which is part of the Crown Jewels of France.

The Al-Thani collection brings together and regroups pieces from many former Indian treasuries, some of which emphasize beliefs of the period.

In India, the nine stones of the Navaratna (Sanskrit: नवरत्न) where nava stands for nine and ratna for jewel, are considered to be auspicious, and in Vedic texts and Indian Astrology were believed to have the power to protect the wearer.

These jewels are:

Blue sapphire (niilam)
Cat's Eye (vaidooryam)
Diamond (vajram)
Emerald (marathakam)
Hessonite (gomeda)
Pearl (muktaaphalam)
Red Coral (vidrumam)
Ruby (maanikyam)
Yellow sapphire (pushparajam)

Often the gems were set in pure gold, using a gemstone setting art form known as Kundan, a method of gem setting, that consist of inserting a gold foil between the stones which does not require soldering or claw mounts. 


Former V&A curator Dr. Amin Jaffer is said to have begun advising Sheik Hamad on his acquisitions, after becoming the international director of Asian art at Christie’s.  In 2017, after ten years with the auction house, Jaffer resigned to take the position of Chief Curator of the Al-Thani's collection.

Ripped from the pages of an Oceans 8 Hollywood Script

According to current reconstruction of the incident using cameras surveillance footage, two thieves, one serving as lookout and a second culprit who actively broke into a display case located in the Sala dello Scrutinio, quickly made off with one brooch and  a pair of earrings. As soon as the display case was breachedsounding an alarm, the pair deftly escaped through the crowded museum gallery, blending in among the patrons and were out of the museum before security could seal the museum's perimeter to apprehend them.

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Immediately after the theft, the Sala dello Scrutinio was closed pending a complete inventory and review of surveillance footage.   

At the present time, photographs of the pieces stolen during the robbery have not been released by the authorities or by Al-Thani. In a statement given by the Venice city police commissioner Vito Gagliardi, the stolen jewelry included diamonds, gold and platinum, had been assigned a customs value of just 30,000 euros ($36,084), but are likely worth “a few million euros.”  

Selling hot goods

While diamonds may be a girl's best friend, buying stolen gemstones is a serious crime.  Without a certificate of authenticity which proves a diamond adheres to the KCPS, or Kimberly Process Certification Scheme showing that the gem does not originate from a "blood zone" tainted by human rights abuses, finding a buyer who will purchase an unprovenanced jewel of skeptical origin can be difficult.

Individuals caught trading in stolen or "blood diamonds" face significant legal ramifications and buying unprovenanced jewels poses great economic risk for jewelers, pawn shops, diamond and gem traders and cutters, and anyone else who might come into contact with a newly stolen and possibly well documented stolen gemstone.

Even if the Venice gem thieves were able to successful sell their newly stolen loot, they will likely do so with only a modicum of success. While big-time professional jewel thieves may have black market connections that allow them to sell substantial pieces for hefty sums, most implus thieves have to settle for intermediary fences which pay nowhere near what the gems in the necklace may actually be worth, financially or historically.

By:  Lynda Albertson

December 23, 2016

Visiting Florence and want to see an exhibition dedicated to art crime? The beauty of art and its appreciation can heal the wounds inflicted.

Visiting Florence between now and February 14, 2017?  

Then you should try and make time to see "La Tutela Tricolore," an exhibition dedicated to the “Custodians of Italy’s cultural identity” at the La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze.



The exhibition opened December 19, 2016, and is made up of eight themed sections, some of which are highlighted here.  Focusing on art crimes in general and highlighting many of the exceptional recoveries that are a result of Italy's unique investment in cultural heritage protection through its  unique-in-the-world Comando Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale dei Carabinieri, the exhibition demonstrates just how diverse "crimes against art" really are.

The event inaugurates the newly opened Aula Magliabechiana, part of a 18 million euro restoration project to overhaul two floors beneath the Biblioteca Magliabechiana.  These renovations not only provide a connection with Vasari’s original building on Piazza Castellani, but create a permanent exhibition space on the ground floor which will be dedicated to temporary exhibits such as this one.


"La Tutela Tricolore's" first section highlights art crimes by terrorism and pays homage to the city of Florence and the Uffizi's recovery from the May 27, 1993 bombing on the museum and the Accademia dei Georgofili.

Long before there was an ISIS, domestic terrorists affiliated with the Italian organised crime group Cosa Nostra placed 280 kilograms of Pentrite and T4 explosives mixed with a small quantity of TNT in a Fiat and left it parked on Via dei Georgofili, just behind the historic Uffizi Gallery's main entrance.  The resulting early morning explosion, caused when the car bomb detonated, created a ten foot wide and six foot deep crater that claimed the lives of five people, including one small, seven-week old, girl. Thirty-three people were treated in local hospitals for their injuries and the scar on the heart of the Renaissance city remains palpable in Florence's architecture and the city's collections.

Serving as a defiant symbol of "defeat through reconstruction," the opening of this Uffizi exhibition space commemorates this mournful occurrence and Florence's determination to overcome its devastating effects.  It serves as a reminder that through solidarity and hope, the beauty of art, and its appreciation and preservation, has the ability to heal wounds, even those inflicted long ago.

Section two of the exhibition highlights Florentine works of art stolen during World War II.  Some of the highlights on display include Labors of Hercules by Antonio Pollaiolo, the Madonna and Child (also called the Tickling Madonna or the Madonna Casini) by Masaccio, and Galatea by Bronzino.

Another section highlights works of art repatriated to Italy from other countries.

Some of the more recent repatriations on display are:

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
The Torlonia Peplophoros, a first-century BC sculpture depicting the body of a young goddess.  The statue is one of 15 stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 which was just returned to Italy on December 7, 2016 from the United States.


An ornate parade wagon dating back to the early seventh century B.C.E., looted from the tomb of a Sabine prince laid to rest within the Colle del Forno necropolis. This wagon and other funerary objects were repatriated July 2016 following extremely difficult and protracted multi-year negotiations with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum in Denmark's capital of Copenhagen.


A second century CE marble head, belonging to a statue of Julia Domna, the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, the founder of the Severan dynasty.  This bust was stolen from the Museo del Canopo at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli in 2012 and was also returned to Italy earlier this month.


This 510 B.C. E Etruscan black-figure kalpis, attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop, was looted by Tombaroli passed through the now well known trafficking network of Gianfranco Becchina before being sold to the Toledo Museum of Art with only a photocopy of two paragraphs typed in German on hotel stationery by the Swiss hotel's owner, stating he had owned it since 1935 as provenance.  As the result of an incriminating polaroid and a Federal Verified Complaint in Forfeiture, the museum was eventually encouraged to return the antiquity to Italy in 2012.

The sixth section highlights the globalization of criminal networks with pieces recovered from the Castellani Goldsmith collection, stolen during a dramatic 2013 Easter weekend jewelry heist the Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia in Rome. As reported on earlier, this museum theft turned out to be a theft-to-order, involving a shady antiquarian, a drug dealer and a Russian with a penchant for gold.


Some of the last objects in the exhibit are the most poignant, and highlight art crimes in war, and the risk to the countries irreplaceable works of art which have been subject to natural disasters like Italy's recent earthquakes that continuously endanger its historic buildings and collections.  These objects remind us that fighting to protect art, against the elements and against the theft and exportation of works of art is a matter of civilisation and is a battle which warrants our full investment and engagement.

This exhibition is free of charge and runs through 14 February 2017 in Florence at:
La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze, Italy
Phone:+39 055 23885
Tues. – Sun. 10 am to 7 pm
(Closed on Mondays)
Entrance from door 2,
guided visits can be requested at: firenzemusei@operalaboratori.com.

October 14, 2016

Conviction and Sentence - New Brunswick Museum Theft

Last month, Bruce Lee Marion pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property, valued at more than $5,000 for his role in the theft of four bronze plaques taken from the façade of the New Brunswick Museum (Musée du Nouveau-Brunswick) in Saint John, Canada.   He was sentenced on October 13, 2016 to two years minus one day in provincial jail.

The four plaques, part of a series of nine commemorative bronzes produced by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada which highlight the stories of New Brunswickers who have made significant contributions to the region, were reported stolen by museum staff on July 28, 2016.   One plaque recognized the country's Royal Navy Admiral Charles Carter Drury, a second recognized New Brunswick politician John Hamilton Gray, and the remaining two highlighted the lives of historians George McCall Theal and John Clarence Webster.  Once mounted outside the museum, the plaques had been pried off the wall, most likely with a crowbar.

Marion was connected to the theft after scrap dealer, Robert Knox at Simpson Scrap Metal and Recycling reported the license plate of Marion's vehicle to the authorities after he heard radio news reports about the museum's loss and remembered that Marion had delivered material matching the plaques' description to the Lorneville scrap yard.

Given the recent increase in metal thefts in Canada, where scrap metal dealers say bronze and copper alloys can fetch up to Canadian $1.60 per pound, the museum has opted to remove the remaining five plaques for safekeeping.

April 14, 2016

Theft to Order, a Shady Antiquarian, a Drug Dealer and a Russian with a Penchant for Historic Baubles

Theft to order, a shady antiquarian, a drug dealer and a Russian with a penchant for gold.  This is the apparent recipe for the dramatic 2013 Easter weekend jewelry heist at Rome's Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia.

In a press conference in Rome today, officers from Italy's art police squad, the Nucleo Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, and Giancarlo Capaldo and Tiziana Cugini attorney's with the Procura della Repubblica di Roma who oversee crimes against the country's cultural heritage, announced the recovery of 23 of the 27 works of gold stolen from the Rome museum's Castellani collection between March 30 and April 1, 2013.   

Castellani was the first 19th-century Rome goldsmith to create jewelry pieces closely modelled closely on the Etruscan, classical Italian and Greek prototypes. While many outside of Italy are not familiar with the jewelry magnate, the family's finest works are displayed in many museums around the world including at the British Museum, the Musée du Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Musée des Arts. 

At the time of the 2013 theft, Italian investigators were criticised for remaining tight-lipped about what had been stolen.  Unlike in other museums thefts, the jewelry's value was never publicly disclosed and no photos from the Villa Giulia's inventory collection system were circulated to the public.  Even the museum’s CCTV footage remained a close door secret.  

When the theft was made public, many speculated that in Italy's economic recession, the laborously hand-creafted jewelry would likely be dismantled, its accompanying precious and semi-precious stones resold and the gold then melted down and reused.

Recovered Castellani brooch
All this conjecture was disproved during today's press conference.

Arriving around midnight, the thieves had announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade into the museum's courtyard, temporarily diverting the attention of the night watchman.  This bought the thieves the precious seconds needed to enter the museum and disable the guards. 

Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers then climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms, an area of the museum which houses the objects that make up the vast 6000-piece Castellani collection.

Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of four double collection display cabinets with an axe, which unintentionally engaged a museum security alarm cutting short the criminal's jewelry shopping.  Even with such limited time, the thieves still managed to bag what has now been confirmed to be three million euros worth of exquisite pendants, earrings, and brooches enriched with precious and semi precious stones, coins or other ancient historic elements.  

While the museum getaway went off without a hitch for the thieves, the days following it did not. 

Initial investigations revealed that a wealthy Russian citizen, with a passion for Rome’s Castellani-styled jewellery had expressed her interest to a local antiquarian who had shown her reproductions. But the buyer wasn’t interested.  She wanted original items, not next-generation replicas.  This antiquarian is believed to be the main receiver of the jewelry stolen from the museum. 

Shortly thereafter the Russian woman was identified in Fiumicino before boarding a flight back to San Petersburg.  Travelling with her was the daughter of the antiquarian. Inside her bag, authorities found a catalog for the Castellani collection and images taken using a smart phone camera showing the Villa Giulia's galleries and surveillance equipment mounted on the gallery's ceiling. 

Having lost their chance to sell to the Russian, the gang were forced to begin looking for local buyers.  


Three years of patient investigations, coupled with hundreds of wiretaps and dozens of searches, led the Italian authorities to a band of six individuals, several from the Pontine Marches, an area south east of Rome near Sabaudia.  Without their rich foreign jewelry lover, the group had begun searching for local buyers and a date had been set to sell some of the pieces.

The location for a forthcoming clandestine sale was a remote bar in Rome's periphery on via Portense. It is here that law enforcement swooped in to make arrests.   As offices attempted to question the pair of fences, the two bolted from the scene in an automobile,  attempting to pitch the envelope containing 7 pieces of the Castallani jewelry out the auto's window while in route.  Caught almost immediately, the two fences and another four individuals have been implicated, two of whom have also been charged with illegal possession of a 357 magnum and drug distribution. 

In one singular museum theft case, we have organised crime, drug dealing, dirty dealers and a Russian Mrs. Dr. No.  Sometimes you can't make this stuff up. 

By: Lynda Albertson














September 12, 2013

Dick Ellis, ARCA Lecturer and founder of Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Squad, on arrests of travellers for thefts of museums and auction houses

Dick Ellis, ARCA Lecturer, formerly of Scotland Yard
When media reports announced that police had arrested suspects for a series of art-related thefts, ARCA blog turned to Richard Ellis, ARCA Lecturer and founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiquity Squad, for his perspective: 
The arrest of two men in Essex was a part of a joint police operation which saw a total of 17 men and 2 women arrested across the UK and Ireland, following a series of thefts at museums and auction houses in which ancient Chinese objects, Rhino horns and other works of art and antiques valued in excess of £20 million were stolen during the course of 2012. 
Police from 26 forces including An Garda Siochana in Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and members of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) raided houses and traveller camps in London, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Sussex, The West Midlands, Nottingham, Belfast, Cork and in Rathkeale near Limerick, the home of the Irish Traveller community. 
They are reported to have seized a large amount of unspecified property although it is not known whether this includes any of the rare Chinese jade carvings stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge for which crime, four people were convicted earlier this year including a 15 year old boy. All were from the traveller community, members of whom have been responsible for a series of the major art and antique robberies committed in the UK in recent years. 
Not for the first time, the UK police were forced to create a cross border task force to investigate a series of crimes committed by travellers against public and private collections of art and antiques. The crimes themselves demonstrate how criminals follow trends in various markets, including the art market, and the explosion in value of Chinese artefacts following the re-emergence of the Chinese art market did not go unnoticed. Likewise, the high prices offered for Rhino horn in the Far East attracted the attention of criminals who realised that it was easier and safer to steal the horns from exhibits in museums rather than poach the horns from live animals in Africa. 
Travellers have been arrested in a number of European countries in connection with the theft of horns from museums, and Austria was recently seeking the extradition of one leading Traveller from Rathkeale. The scale of these crimes resulted in many institutions replacing the horns with replicas to discourage thefts, however in the case of the Norwich museum in Norfolk, the birthplace of Admiral Lord Nelson, when the burglars were unable to steal the Rhino horn they turned their attentions to other exhibits and stole some Nelsonian objects including a mourning ring worn by a member of Nelson's family following his death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. 
These crimes and how they and other art thefts are inspired by art market trends will be discussed in detail at the "Art Crime" Seminar to be held in Dallas Texas between the 14th - 18th October 2013 at the SMU Meadows School of the Arts at which I and former FBI Special Agent Virginia Curry will be talking. For further information about this course contact Abigail Smith at 214 768 3425 or abigails@smu.edu or visit http://mcs.smu.edu/calender/event/world-art-and-fine-art-crime.

September 1, 2013

ARCA's Art & Cultural Heritage Conference 2013: Felicity Strong (University of Melbourne), Theodosia Latsi (Utrecht University) and Verity Algar (University College, London) presented in Panel 4

(Left to right): Kirsten Hower (moderator), Felicity Strong,
Theodosia Latsi, and Verity Algar
Sunday morning, June 23rd, Kirsten Hower, the academic program assistant for ARCA's summer certificate program, moderated a panel on art-related crimes with presentations by three students and/or recent graduates.

Felicity Strong, PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne, spoke on "The mythology of the art forger":
In the twentieth century, there has been the rise of depiction of the art forger in non-fiction biographies and memoir. Distinct from scholarly research, these depictions of individual art forgers have developed a common mythology, which weaves through each story of the art forger. The art forger is mythologised as a hero; the failed artists rallying against a corrupt art market, dominated by greedy art dealers and scholars. In Australian and British culture, this mythology has its roots in the wider mythology of hero criminal, such as in the stories of Robin Hood or Ned Kelly. It also feeds into a broader anti-intellectualism and mistrust of the establishment, particularly in contrast to the depiction of art curators and connoisseurs in the depictions. This mythology is evident in a number of biographies of notable forgers, such as Han van Meegeren and Elmyr de Hory, which intersect with the sub-genre of memoir, in the personal accounts of Tom Keating, Eric Hebborn and Ken Peryani. These accounts fuel the ability of the forgers to create their own public persona and feed into the wider mythology of the art forger. Analysis of non-fictional depictions of the art forger may offer an insight into why it is not considered as serious as other crimes and worth of closer scrutiny by the broader community.
Ms. Strong is in her second year of research at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She has a Master of Art Curatorship and has worked in commercial galleries in Melbourne and London. Her PhD research is focused on discovering the extent to which perceptions of art forgery are influenced by depictions in cultural context, such as in literature, on screen and within an art museum environment.

Theodosia Latsi, MA in Global Criminology, Utrecht University, presented on "The Art of Stealing: the Case of Museum Thefts in the Netherlands". Ms. Latsi has studied Sociology in Panteion University of Athens, Greece and has recently graduated from the master of Criminology at Utrecht University. She is currently conducting research voluntarily for the Trafficking Culture Project and offers periodically assistance at CIROC (Centre for Information and Research on Organised Crime, Netherlands).

Verity Algar, art history student, University College London, presented on "Cultural memory and the restitution of cultural property: Comparing Nazi-looted art and Melanesian malanggan":
Using two disparate case studies -- claims for the restitution of artworks confiscated by the Nazis being lodged by Jewish families and concerns regarding the presence Melanesian malanggan in Western museum collections -- I will discuss the importance of collective, or cultural memory in the context of making decisions about whether to restitute objects. The two cases can be differentiated by the approach to social memory taken by the groups involved. Many Jewish people are keen to have their property returned to them, whereas the people of New Ireland do not want the malanggan, which they spent months carving, returned to them. I discuss the problems that arise when legal definitions of ownership clash with cultural notions of property and illustrate this using Marie Altmann's successful restitution of five Klimt paintings from the Australian government and the malanggan example. I draw on the language of restitution claims and the display of Nazi-looted art at Israel's Yad Vashem museum and will apply Appadurai's theory that objects have "social lives" to overcome the dichotomy between the cultural value and monetary value of an object. I conclude that cultural memory is a useful concept to apply to restitution claims. Its impact can vastly differ from case to case, as illustrated by the divergent attitudes to memory and cultural property in the Jewish and Melanesian case studies. Cultural memory needs to be defined on a cultural-specific basis. The concept of cultural memory allows cultural objects to be part of the collective cultural memory of one group of people, whilst being legally owned by an individual.
Ms. Algar is a second year B.A. History of Art student at University College London, where she minors in Anthropology. She is interested in the legal regulation of the art market and restitution cases, particularly those relating to wartime looting.

March 31, 2013

Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Another European Museum Hit by Thieves


by Lynda Albertson, CEO, Association of Research into Crimes against Art

ROME - In the last thirteen months several museums in Europe have been hit with dramatic thefts.

In February 2012, two men stormed the Archeological Museum of Olympia in the early morning and tied up a female guard. Wielding hammers, the robbers proceeded to smash five reinforced glass display cases, stuffing 68 pottery and bronze artifacts into their bags before making a hasty escape. 

In a less violent robbery, thieves walked into the Kunsthal in Rotterdam at 3 am on October 16, 2012 and stole seven paintings from the Triton Foundation, a private foundation of the family of the late Willem Cordia. Inside the museum for less than two minutes, the thieves cherry-picked valuable art works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud, packing them into rucksacks before exiting the same way they came in. 

In January goal-oriented burglars struck an art museum in Bergen, Norway for the second time in less than three years. Using high-beam headlights and crowbars, two thieves smashed display cases and stole 23 rare Chinese artifacts in just over ninety seconds.

This past weekend, over the Easter holidays, Rome’s Villa Giulia joined the list. 

Arriving around midnight, the thieves announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade. This effectively occupied the attention of the night watchmen and bought the thieves the precious seconds needed to climb a garden wall and break into the museum.  It also provided them with a thick cover to obscure their movements on the museum’s close-circuit cameras. 

While the guards investigated the smoke and notified the police of the evening's irregularity, the criminals began making their way through the museum.  Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms that house the objects that make up the vast 6000-piece Castellani collection.

Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of the four double collection display cabinets, setting off the museum’s alarm and grabbing an as yet, unnamed number of jewelry pieces before making their escape unseen.

If their selection was random or purposeful has not been indicated by the Italian investigators.  What has been said is that the shattered display cases housed 19th century Castellani jewelry reproductions based on Etruscan designs while the collection cases facing and alongside those hit containing original Etruscan pieces were left untouched.

Anyone familiar with ancient jewelry making techniques knows that the loss of these antique reproductions is likely to be quite significant. In December of 2006 Sotheby's sold a Castellani Egyptian-revival gold, scarab and micromosaic necklace with matching brooch to a private collector for $475,200. Nine other Castellani pieces sold in that same sale for six figures a piece.

To create his Etruscan replicas, Alessandro Castellani studied original Etruscan artifacts in great detail to try to unravel their method of fabrication. Experimenting with various granulation techniques, he hand-applied minute gold grain onto high-karat gold surfaces producing labor intensive and intricate gold baubles that were as exquisite as their ancient counterparts.

The finest examples of jewelry in this style were produced between the eighth and second centuries, B.C.E. Even with modern tools and knowledge, few goldsmiths today have sufficient skill to compete with either the Castellani jewelers or the original Etruscan masters of the craft.  The jewelry pieces in the Villa Giulia collection were created in a time when human hands were more abundant that the precious metals needed to produce an item and many of the collection’s signature pieces required hundreds of hours of painstaking workmanship.

As back history to the stolen pieces, Fortunato Castellani, opened his family’s jewelry business on the Via del Corso in Rome in 1814 growing the family enterprise into a goldsmith dynasty. Alongside its founder, three generations of Castellani family members and jewelry artisans based their reputations on creating what they called “Italian archaeological jewelry,” inspired by the precious Etruscan, Roman, Greek, and Byzantine antiquities being excavated at the time. 

Characterised by its thoughtfully worked gold, many Castellani revival pieces utilise labor-intensive micro mosaic insets, or were ornately paved with cameos or semi-precious stones.  The costliest pieces were purchased by well-heeled clientele, some of whom included Napoleon III; Prince Albert; Queen Victoria's daughter, Empress Frederick of Prussia; Queen Maria Pia of Savoy; and Robert and Elizabeth Browning, who even wrote a poem about one of their rings.

For now, the authorities at the Villa Giulia and the Carabinieri TPC are remaining mum publicly as to which 19th century pieces were taken, their value and what, if anything, the museum’s closed circuit surveillance tapes have revealed in terms of clues.

What we do know is that this not the first time that a burglar has made use of a cinema-worthy smokescreen to foil security cameras or to carry out a brazen museum theft on a holiday. 

In 1999 Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise was stolen from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England during New Year celebrations.  The bandit broke through a skylight, rappelled down a rope ladder into a gallery and blinded security cameras with a smoke bomb before making off with the £3m painting.

A smoke bomb was also detonated inside the Ukraine's Lvov Picture Gallery in 1992 during a noon-day heist.   In this violent robbery, two bandits stole three 19th century paintings and shot two museum employees - one a manager and the other a section manager - who tried to prevent their escape.

What will become of the pieces stolen from the Villa Giulia collection is subject to speculation, as is the rationale behind most modern museum thefts.  Some here in Rome think that the recent UK and European robberies highlight that austerity measures and the recession have created a financial climate that on surface value makes museum collections appealing targets.

What happens after, when the high profile goods are difficult to sell, remains to be seen.

July 8, 2012

Ton Cremers on "Rise in Thefts from Museums: Due to Economic Crisis?" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Columnist Ton Cremers speculates on the "Rise in Thefts from Museums: Due to Economic Crisis?" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Mr. Cremers is a security consultant and the founder of The Museum Security Network (MSN). He was awarded the 2003 Robert B. Burke Award for excellence in cultural property protection. Here's an excerpt:
The Museum Security Network (www.museum-security.org) has been on line since December 1996. In the past fifteen years over 40,000 reports have been disseminated about incidents with cultural property, such as thefts, fakes and forgeries, vandalism, and embezzlement. The number of thefts of sculptures from gardens and towns has grown tremendously, so much so that we have stopped trying to record all of them.
This year alone (and this is just a brief summary, far from complete) Stone Age axes were stolen from the Yorkshire Museum, a number of Lord Nelson artifacts were stolen from the Norwich Museum, as well as Buddhas from Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, artifacts worth £1.8m from Durham University’s Oriental Museum, watches from Silverton Country Historical Society museum, a lifeboat from RNLI’s museum; Museum Gouda (in The Netherlands) was robbed of a 17th century religious object, after the museum door was forced open using explosives; the National Gallery in Athens suffered a theft of Picasso and Mondrian paintings; and the Olympia Museum in Greece lost over 70 objects, after a early morning robbery. Thieves have wrenched the horns off stuffed rhinoceroses in European museums: Bamberg, Germany, Florence, Italy, Haslemere Educational Museum, Ritterhaus Museum Offenburg, Germany, Sworders Auctioneers, Stansted Mountfitchet, and more. Officials at Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, claim the number of thefts of rhinoceros horns has increased sharply in Europe during the past year. Since 2011, the agency has recorded 56 successful, and 10 attempted, thefts.
According to a U.K. report 75,000 heritage crimes were committed in one year (experts warn that the “alarming” figures show that Britain’s history is being destroyed in an “insidious and often irreversible way” for future generations): the study found nearly a fifth of the country’s 31,000 Grade I or II* buildings were subject to criminal acts, while more than 63,000 Grade II buildings were targeted. The report, compiled by the Council for British Archaeology and Newcastle and Loughborough universities, found that crimes such as metal theft were more likely to occur in the north, while at least 750 sites were hit by “devastating” arson attacks.
All together an alarming development, or is this just business as usual?

The Journal of Art Crime is now available to subscribers.