by Michael Lowrey
Justin Peters of Slate offers up a fascinating look at art thefts and policy attempts to recover stolen masterpieces. The results aren’t encouraging. Sample quotes:
Twenty-five years ago, two thieves dressed as police officers bluffed their way into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made away with $500 million of artwork by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others. The thieves didn’t cover their faces, and they apparently didn’t know much about what they were stealing: They roughly cut the paintings from their frames and left more valuable works hanging on the walls. Despite the thieves’ apparent inexpertise and the ensuing media attention, no suspects were ever arrested and the art was never recovered. Authorities believe the robbers were regional gangsters, but nobody really knows where the art has been stashed, or if it’s even still intact. The Gardner robbery is the biggest and most frustrating art heist in American history—and it’s as cold as cold cases come.
Such cases going cold happens quite frequently though. Why? You obviously can’t display stoten art in public, thieves often don’t know how to get in contact with people that might want to buy stolen paintings, and it’s difficult even to ransom art without being caught. So thieves have items they can’t really do anything with, so they’re forced to sit on them.
Police ineptitude plays a role too:
That’s one reason why these cases are hard to solve. Another is that most law enforcement agencies simply aren’t up to the task of solving them. In his essay “Who Is Stealing All Those Paintings?” [criminologist A.J.G.] Tijhuis reveals that his titular question is difficult to answer due to “the rather limited interest of most police services in the theft of works of art. … [I]n most countries, no special art theft units exist within the local or national police services. Furthermore, data on art thefts are usually not registered in national or international databases—indeed, no complete databases exist worldwide.” If an artwork stolen in Denmark makes its way to France, the Gendarmerie might not know to look for it.
You can read the rest of the story here.