Invaluable art, including a Picasso, Monet, Matisse, and Gauguin, were stolen from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam in 2012. It was one of the largest art thefts in Europe. The police got a grip on the case and hauled in suspects, including the Romanian Radu Dogaru. His mother, Olga Dogaru, not wanting her son to go to prison, confessed to burning the pilfered paintings, reasoning that the police couldn’t indict him if they didn’t have the evidence.
She withdrew her confession, probably on advice from an attorney, but Bucharest’s National Science Museum had their lab analyze the ashes in Olga’s stove. They concluded that oil paintings indeed met their end there.
Other cases of priceless art being destroyed to evade prosecution include Picasso’s “Pigeon With Green Peas” which was lifted from the Musee d’Art Moderne then thrown into a trash bin. Police only found out after a garbage truck took the bin to the dump.
In 1997 police caught up with Stèphane Breitwiese, a Frenchman who robbed art from over a hundred and fifty European museums. Unlike most art thieves, Breitwiese knew and appreciated art and wanted to build a personal collection, but he too confessed to destroying sixty pieces as the police were zeroing in on him.
This brings us to the uncomfortable idea that perhaps the art from the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, the mother of all art heists, may no longer be with us. After two and a half decades of continuous investigation, the art remains as elusive as when it was first stolen. Every lead has come to naught. Even, we presume, with the video of the unauthorized late night visitor who made his appearance inside the Gardner the night before the robbery. The surveillance video footage of him is not clear, unlike the video footage of the Tsarnaev brothers leaving their backpacks at the Boston Marathon.
Could it be that the Gardner art was destroyed right before investigators arrived on the scene? There have been three or four critical instances when investigators thought that they had solved the case and were on their way to collect the art. Could it be that they were absolutely correct on one of those instances? Here are three reasons why the art may no longer exist.
1) Thugs don’t care about art.
They care about not getting caught. A Vermeer means as much to them as a velvet Elvis. I understood this when I was researching terrorism and talking to various gunmen and ex-gunmen around the Middle East and Europe. They have a certain emotional immaturity. They live in a world most of us don’t understand.
2) Even if someone found the missing art, there isn’t much you can do with it.
No one can do anything with that art except return it to the Gardner for the $5 million reward. No one can sell it or even use it as a bargaining chip. The idea that the museum was robbed to set free a prisoner should have been put to rest ages ago. The chance of the paintings turning up becomes lower with every passing year.
3) The thief can walk off totally free.
The statute of limitations has long since run out. Why would anyone still want to hold on to art?
For the last few years investigators have been saying that they’re just around the corner from solving the case and restoring the art. I last heard that so forcefully two years ago from someone central to the investigation that I thought for sure it was just a matter of picking up the art and returning it. But the art is still at large, and it’s too hard to believe that someone still has it in his attic waiting for the right day to return it because the right day was many years ago.
In my new novel, The Museum Heist, I have written a mystery based on the idea of a cunning art-forger who discovers the famed missing artworks and the path obsession he barrels down to chase the culprits– and his own desires. I welcome you to read the first chapter or purchase a copy on Amazon.