Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts

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.

October 9, 2016

A Persian soldier from Persepolis loses his second home

In February 2014 ARCA wrote about a sandstone bas-relief panel then-titled, "Head of a Guard" stolen in September 2011 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and found 2000 miles away in Edmonton in February 2014. The relief was recovered thanks to a collaborative criminal investigation by the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with a Loss Adjuster from AXA Art.

At the time of the recovery, Clare Dewey, then a Claims Manager with AXA art in Canada stated that AXA's "responsibility to our policy holders doesn’t end with a claims payment; we have a duty to work with law enforcement to recover cultural artefacts."
Achaemenid-era carving of Persian and Median soldiers in traditional
costume (Medians are wearing rounded hats and boots), in Persepolis, Iran
The Persian Achaemenid relief from Persepolis had been, at the time of its theft, part of the museum's permanent collection for decades. So imagine my disappointment when this photograph turned up on ARCA's Instagram feed.


A bit of follow-up research seems to indicate that the handsome soldier holding his weapon unfortunately is no longer part of the MMFA's collection and has entered the commercial art market as the piece is highlighted in an article by Royal Academy of Art's Charles Saumarez Smith and Sam Phillips titled What to see at Frieze 2016.   In the article, the pair pick out some of their favourite artwork at this year’s Frieze fairs in London and our little fella is one of them. 

The article opens with a high-resolution image of the Assyrian relief from Persepolis and goes on to state that it is located at the display stand of Sam Fogg near the show's entrance.  It mentions the relief being museum quality and that it was once part of the Montreal Museum of Art collection but makes no mention of its theft or why the piece apparently didn't return to the museum's collection after all. A guardian article states the piece is for sale for £2.2m. 


"As the curator who was responsible for organizing the exhibition hall from which the object was stolen over two years ago, I am obviously very happy to see this beautiful work of ancient sculpture return to the museum. It was one of our only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE). 

It represents in low relief the head and shoulder of an armed Persian guard and probably decorated the walls of one of the several Achaemenid palaces spread across the Persian empire. Similar pieces are found in various museums and most were looted from palace sites in the first part of the 19th century. This particular piece is very well preserved and had suffered no damage during its recent adventure. 

The work of the RCMP and the Sureté du Québec in recovering this artefact was remarkable and the officers in question are to be complimented for the quality of their work and its successful end. We all hope that this success will deter would-be thieves from attempting other such thefts. The investigation continues to try and recover the second object stolen from the museum also in the autumn of 2011." 


As can be seen by this artworks presence in the London sale venue at Regent's park, insurance claims can get complicated when it comes to magnificent art works held by museums.  This is especially true when high-value, high-portability and rapidly appreciating works of art are stolen and subsequently recovered years later.   

Who gets to keep an insured artwork usually depends on the policy-holder's "buy-back" rights; specifically written clauses contained in property insurance policies that insure against physical loss or damage of high-value tangible property. In many cases buy-back clauses give the insured, in this case a museum,  first rights when in comes to buying the object back from the insurance company.  The buy-back amount is usually the amount of the original physical loss payment plus, on some occasions, a loss adjustment fee. 

When things go missing, in-house counsel for museums and boards of trustees must manage the financial loss when these assets are stolen and then weigh if it is in the museum's best interests to buy the object back if and when they are found.  Sometimes museum's decline to do so, and sadly, as may be the case with this lovely example of Persian art of the Achaemenid period, sometimes a museum just doesn't choose to, or have the financial liquidity to do so, and the object then goes up for sale on the commercial art market. 

By Lynda Albertson








March 25, 2014

The Toronto Star: ARCA graduate Mark Collins quoted in article on "Crimes of the art"

Last summer, ARCA awarded Mark Collins, a senior officer at the Ontario Provincial Police, the Minerva Law Enforcement Scholarship to attended the Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Murray Whyte, writing for the Toronto Star in "Crimes of the art" (March 24, 2014), reports:
Last month, thieves stole work from a collective of Toronto artists. OPP officer Mark Collins is doing what he can to get it back and build some respect for a criminal realm worth $6 billion a year.
Collins, officially assigned as an investigator to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission, was in attendance at a fundraiser for Creatures:Collective, the site of a robbery on Feb. 13 of four pieces of art:
The crowd of mostly young, artfully dishevelled downtown sorts sipped bulk-quality wine and perused the offerings on the walls: small works, for the most part, were offered for auction by a dozen or so artists to help raise a little money to cover the victims’ losses and pay for what’s become, in hindsight, a glaring oversight. “A security system,” smiled Darren Leu ruefully, listing alongside it repairs to the back door and relief for the victims. Leu, the director of Creatures, chatted warmly and embraced a good many of the dozens of people who streamed in over the first hour of the event. He held a clipboard, tracking bids and handling of the auction. The gallery had a camera pointed at its front door, mounted on the wall across the street, he said. That morning, they found the camera oddly askew, directed at a storefront two doors down. “The first week of February was extremely windy,” he said. “But still, the way they came in made it seem like they knew the space.”
[...]
The Creatures: Collective case is being handled out of the Toronto Police Service’s 14 Division, with an unofficial assist from Collins based on his particular expertise. “A lot of police here just write art theft up like a stolen laptop or iPad. It’s not differentiated,” he says. “It isn’t following fingerprints; it’s getting images of the works out there and making them too hot for the thief to handle. But if you start telling police forces they don’t know what they’re doing with this stuff, you end up with a lot of hurt feelings.” Collins has always had a connection to art. “But I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler,” he said. “I might be able to do a Damien Hirst: I could pickle a shark, but it probably wouldn’t turn out as well.” Before getting involved in law enforcement, as a teen he worked as a night cleaner at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 1992, he started policing traffic, writing tickets and plotting his next move. He became an investigator in 2000, but the idea of working with art lingered in the back of his mind. Then, a couple of years ago, he read Canadian author Josh Knelman’s book Hot Art and the light went off. “I talked to everyone in that book,” he said. “It made me frustrated: art theft is recognized as a serious crime, but it’s like the drug trade. No one knows how much it actually represents.” There are guesses. The most noted one is roughly $6 billion per year. Nonetheless, Collins is willing to start small. One of Chen’s stolen works was part of a triptych, priced at $400. “It’s kind of fun, putting it on Interpol or Scotland Yard, or the FBI and the international Art Loss (Register),” Collins said. Chen lost another work, a four-by-six-foot canvas he’d made with Kevin Columbus, destined for another show. “I guess it’s the ultimate compliment,” he said. Within hours of the theft, the pair set to work to replace the stolen painting. They finished it in a week. “It was just hateful,” he said. “We couldn’t let them take anymore.”

February 14, 2014

Simon Metke and His Ongoing Relationship with "Protecting" Cultural Heritage


In a strange twist of you are famous three times and not just once, Simon Metke was first interviewed by CBC News Edmonton in December 2011 at his South Edmonton, Water's Edge condo on Saskatchewan Drive regarding incomplete works by the developer on the exterior of the highrise development.  
Photo Credit:  CBC News Edmonton
During his interview with Klingbeil and Pruden, Metke indicated he was drawn to the Achaemenid bas-relief panel stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 because of his own interest in Mesopotamian religion and art.  He also indicated that he was pleased with having protected the object so that it didn’t get destroyed or lost.

Mr. Metke's feeling of protection towards cultural patrimony also seems to have included historic houses.  In March 2013 he was listed as a campaign team member for an Indiegogo crowd sourcing effort to raise $80,000 to preserve a historical landmark home to be designated as "The Healing Arts History House".  The home was to be utilized as a community centre for art, massage, music, dance, health, sustainable research, and community living.   The project only raised $1450 CAD.

CTV Edmonton News has a live interview with the puzzled Mr. Metke which Canadian viewers can see here.   

In further information related to this ongoing investigation, ARCA was informed by Sergente Mélanie Dumaresq, Agent d’information, Service des communications avec les médias for the Sûreté du Québec  (via email) that no reward has been paid out related to this case. When asked if police acted on a tip, Sergente Dumaresq replied that “Information received from the public enabled us to advance the investigation and identify the suspect.”  She added that the investigation was begun by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) but was transferred to the Sûreté du Québec in order to make use of the expertise of the integrated artworks investigation team, a specialized team composed of members of the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Sergente Dumaresq stated that the investigation indicates that the suspect did not commit the theft at the MMFA, but purchased the object knowing that it had been stolen.

Metke has been ordered to appear in an Edmonton courtroom on March 19, 2014.

February 13, 2014

AXA Art Insurance, the Sûreté du Québec, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Announce the recovery of a rare and valuable Achaemenid Bas-Relief Stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011


Sandstone, Head of a Guard photo by @DomenicFazioli
At a press conference today in Montreal, the Sûreté du Québec - Enquête de l'Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d'art and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in cooperation with AXA Art Insurance Limited and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, announced the recovery of the Achaemenid bas-relief panel stolen from the gallery more than two years ago.

On October 26, 2011, a surveillance camera at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recorded a suspect in a baseball cap walking out of the gallery with a satchel believed by police and the museum to possibly contain one of the stolen artifacts reported to be worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars" (Montreal Gazette).

Three months later, an Art Alert (Case File : 11-98, dated February 14, 2012) issued by the Enquête de l'Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d'art (the official name for Canada's Art Crime Enforcement Unit headquartered in Montreal) publicly identified the stolen objects as a 1st century C.E. yellow Numidian marble "Head of a Man, Egypto-archaizing style" and a more valuable 5th century B.C.E. Sandstone "Head of a Guard (fragment of a low relief)" from Persepolis. The announcement advertised a "Substantial Reward (Offered by AXA Art, subject to specific conditions) for information leading to the recovery" of the two archaeological objects. To avoid compromising the police investigation, no details of the theft aside from the video of the potential suspect, were released.

According to the press release issued for today's press conference, the $1.2 million sandstone bas-relief panel "Head of a Guard", valued at 1.2 million dollars, was recovered during a raid on an Edmonton house by an Alberta unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on January 22, 2014. This action led to the arrest of a 33-year-old man who has been charged with possession of stolen goods.

Surete du Quebec's spokesperson Joyce Kemp said in today's press conference said the unnamed individual arrested had purchased the object for an amount significantly inferior to its actual value.  The investigation and subsequent arrest have not, as yet, led to the recovery of the second artifact, the Yellow Numidian marble "Head of a Man", valued at $40,000 and reportedly stolen on October 26, 2011 nor the thief responsible for both thefts.

ARCA spoke with Mark Dalryrmple, the specialized fine art loss adjuster appointed by AXA ART assigned to this case, and asked him for his thoughts on today's recovery.  His responded positively with “No comment since as may be appreciated, the matter is sub judice, but we are extremely pleased that it is been recovered safely”.

Here's an excerpt from today's formal press release from the insurance company who offered the reward two years ago:

AXA ART announces the recovery of a rare and valuable Achaemenid Bas-Relief Following an intensive year long investigation between the police authorities in Montréal and Edmonton, AXA ART is pleased to announce the recovery of a rare and valuable Persian Achaemenid bas-relief panel.  The panel, together with a Roman marble head, was stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) in 2011.  The small portable panel was recovered almost 2,000 miles away in Edmonton and has now been returned to the Montréal Museum. “Given the difficulties involved in the recovery of stolen artwork we would like to acknowledge the diligence and extraordinary efforts of the Sûreté du Québec and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with our Loss Adjuster, in securing the return of this precious cultural property”, commented AXA ART’s Claims Manager, Clare Dewey.  “The recovery should serve as encouragement for on-going investigations and as a deterrent for similar crimes. Our responsibility to our policy holders doesn’t end with a claims payment; we have a duty to work with law enforcement to recover cultural artefacts.” The Achaemenid relief dates from the 5th century BC. It is made of limestone, and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It has been part of the permanent collection held by the Montréal Museum for decades.  AXA ART is thrilled that this object can be returned to the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts where it will continue to be enjoyed by the public for generations to come. 

UPDATED: This afternoon via email, ARCA interviewed Prof. John M. Fossey, Emeritus Curator, Mediterranean Archaeology for the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, who gave the following quote as to why the recovery is historically important:

"As the Curator who was responsible for organizing the exhibition hall from which the object was stolen over two years ago, I am obviously very happy to see this beautiful work of ancient sculpture return to the museum. It was one of our only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE). It represents in low relief the head and shoulder of an armed Persian guard and probably decorated the walls of one of the several Achaemenid palaces spread across the Persian empire. Similar pieces are found in various museums and most were looted from palace sites in the first part of the 19th century. This particular piece is very well preserved and had suffered no damage during its recent adventure. The work of the RCMP and the Sureté du Québec in recovering this artefact was remarkable and the officers in question are to be complimented for the quality of their work and its successful end. We all hope that this success will deter would-be thieves from attempting other such thefts. The investigation continues to try and recover the second object stolen from the museum also in the autumn of 2011."

Sergente Mélanie Dumaresq, spokesperson for the Sureté du Québec, answered a few questions also via email on behalf of Canada's Art Crime Team:

Was a reward paid? In this case no reward was given.

Were the police acting on a tip?  Information received from the public enabled us to advance the investigation and identify the suspect.  The investigation begun by the Montreal Police (SPVM) but it was transferred to the SQ in order to make use of the expertise of the integrated artworks investigation team, which is a specialized team composed of members of the SQ and the RCMP.

What charges will be filed against the suspect?  The investigation shows that he did not commit the theft at the MMFA, but purchased the object knowing that it had been stolen. The arrested suspect may be charged with possession of criminally obtained property. He will appear on march 19, 2014 in the morning at the Edmonton courthouse.

We have posted a copy of the French press release from the Canadian authorities in Quebec below (the original can be viewed here):

Objet: Artéfact de 1,2 million $ rapatrié au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal
Montréal, le 13 février 2014 – L’Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d’art de la Sûreté du Québec a retrouvé, le 22 janvier dernier à Edmonton, l’un des deux artefacts volés en septembre et en octobre 2011 au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. La pièce d’une valeur de 1,2 million $, qui a été volée le 3 septembre 2011, est un fragment de bas-relief perse datant du 5e siècle avant Jésus-Christ. Elle a été rapatriée au Québec et restituée au Musée des beaux-arts à la suite de sa découverte lors d’une perquisition dans un logement d’Edmonton en Alberta. Un homme de 33 ans d’Edmonton a été arrêté à la suite de cette perquisition réalisée avec la collaboration des policiers de la Division K (Alberta) de la Gendarmerie royale du Canada. 

L’enquête se poursuit pour retrouver le deuxième artefact volé, une statuette de marbre représentant la tête d’un homme de style Égypto-archaïsant datant du 1er siècle avant Jésus-Christ. Cette pièce a été volée le 26 octobre 2011. Toute information pouvant permettre de la retrouver peut être communiquée à la Centrale de l’information criminelle de la Sûreté du Québec, au 1 800 659-4264 ou à l’adresse art.alerte@surete.qc.ca. Tous les signalements seront traités de façon confidentielle. Soulignons la collaboration de la compagnie AXA Art qui a permis de faire progresser  cette enquête. L’Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d’art est formée d’enquêteurs de la Sûreté du Québec et de la Gendarmerie royale du Canada. Elle travaille en étroite collaboration avec différentes organisations qui détiennent des expertises permettant d’enquêter sur les crimes liés au marché de l’art. 

Pour plus d’informations sur l’Équipe d’enquête et pour s’inscrire au service gratuit de diffusion ART ALERTE, les intervenants du monde de l’art sont invités à visiter le site web de la Sûreté du Québec, au www.sq.gouv.qc.ca.

Here's a link to the article announcing today's press conference and links to other published reports:

"Edmonton man charged with possessing stolen artifact 'honoured' to have looked after it", Jana G. Purden, Cailynn Klingbeil, Edmonton Journal:

EDMONTON - For two years, a stolen ancient artifact worth $1.2 million sat on an Ikea bookshelf in a south Edmonton apartment, displayed above a plastic Star Wars spaceship, flanked by crystals and a small collection of stuffed animals. The Persian bas-relief sculpture, dating from the fifth century BC, sat slightly behind a handmade vase decorated with a painted fish and filled with dried flowers. Then, at about 9 a.m. on Jan. 22, a team of police officers working with Quebec RCMP’s Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team banged on Simon Metke’s apartment door. “There’s like 20 RCMP officers flooding my place, the sunshine’s coming in, the crystals are making rainbows everywhere, the bougainvillea flowers are glowing in the sunrise light,” Simon Metke, 33, said Thursday evening, sitting cross-legged in his south Edmonton apartment. “And I’m just sort of, ‘What the heck is going on?’ And, OK, here’s the thing I think you’re looking for. This thing is a lot more significant than I thought it was.”

Police say the sculpture was stolen from Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts in September 2011. The same thief is then believed to have taken a second piece from the museum a month later. That piece, a statuette of a man dating from the first century B.C., is still missing. The man who took the pieces has not been charged. Police aren’t saying what led them to Metke. Metke said he bought the sculpture from the neighbour of a friend in Montreal, thinking it was an “interesting replica” or maybe an antique — but mostly drawn to it because of his own interest in Mesopotamian religion and art. “I didn’t realize that it was an actual piece of the Persepolis,” he said, referring to the ancient Persian ceremonial capital. “I’m honoured to have had it, but I feel really hurt that I wasn’t able to have a positive experience in the end with it.” He said he was somewhat skeptical about buying the piece for $1,400 — mostly because he thought it might not be worth it. In the end, he said he bought it to help out his friend, a “starving artist” who received a $300 commission, and the seller, who said he needed to pay child support and rent, and assured Metke it was “a good deal.”


Twice during fall 2011, someone walked into Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts and walked out with two ancient artifacts worth close to $1.3 million. The Sûreté du Québec, with the help of the RCMP, recently found one of the rare pieces of art in an Edmonton home and arrested a man. The other, from the first century BC, is still missing. Yet the museum said its security system — cameras and agents — is fine and they have no intention of putting the treasures under protective glass. "This is very unusual," Danielle Champagne, director of the museum's foundation, said about the thefts. "Montrealers are very respectful." The last theft from the museum was in 1972, she said. 

"Artifact taken from Montreal museum found in Edmonton; 2nd piece still missing", Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press:

A reward was offered several months after the theft. Provincial police spokeswoman Joyce Kemp said Thursday that whoever bought the artifact after it was stolen paid less than what it was actually worth. "We know that the person purchased it for a price really inferior to what is the real value of the artifact," she told reporters. Kemp would not give any details about how it was purchased. "The investigation is still ongoing (and) it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation," she said.

The SQ/RCMP Integrated Art Crime Investigation Unit issued an Art Alerte for the "Recovered World of Art" (Case File: 11-098) to announce the return of sandstone Bas-Relief, noting its size (21 x 20.5 x 3 cm). Here's the link to the YouTube channel for the Sûreté du Québec if they publish a video of the conference.

by Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO and Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

December 5, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013 - ,, 1 comment

"The Crime That Pays? The Canadian Print Media's Construction of Art Fraud, 1978-2012" authored by Josh and Adie Nelson in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Josh and Adie Nelson authored "The Crime That Pays? The Canadian Print Media’s Construction of Art Fraud, 1978-2012" in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. From the abstract:
This article examines the Canadian print media’s construction of art fraud from January 1978 until December 2012. Our content analysis of N=386 articles reveals that art fraud was portrayed as a low-risk crime that pays and as a “victimless” crime. In contrast to conventional crime news, which is situated in the front portions of newspapers, articles on art fraud were most often positioned in sections devoted to “entertainment.” The media’s portrayal of art fraud as a phenomenon that was more entertaining than vexatious resonated in its portrayal of offenders as charming rogues and artful dodgers, with the most notorious of offenders depicted as heroes, and in its casting of victims as fools or “legitimate” victims. This peculiar construction would seem to offer considerable inducements for schadenfreude, a revelling in the misfortunes of others.
From the article's introduction:  
Examinations of the “professional imperatives” (Chibnall, 1977: 23) that guide press reporting on crime have repeatedly suggested the folly of supposing that these dicta encourage a faithful rendering of the incidence and dynamics of crime. Thus, in emphasizing that journalists are tasked daily with producing a “certain quantity of what is called ‘news’,” Breed’s (1955) classic study suggested how this role obligation could catalyze a “persistent search in the drab episodes of city life for the romantic and picturesque, its dramatic accounts of victim and crime” (see also crime: e.g., Ericson, Baranek & Chan, 1987, 1989, 1991; Hugill, 2010; Katz, 1987; Peelo, 2006; Rajiva & Batacharya, 2010). While the frenetic quality of this quest may have abated in more recent eras with the rise of “supermarket journalism” (Mawby, 2010a, 2010b; McGovern, 2010) and the concomitant ability of journalists to “simply ‘buy’ their stories off the shelf from the press offices that are responsible for ‘managing the media’ about a particular crime or event” (Wilson, 2011), journalism’s cynical mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads,” continues to resonate both its disdain for coverage of the mundane and prosaic and rapt readiness to endow statistically atypical incidents with especial lustre. As Reiner (2002: 307) observed in his commentary upon the news media’s tendency to position the extraordinary as ordinary, “[f]rom the earliest studies (e.g., Harris 1932) onward, analyses of news reports have found that crimes of violence are featured disproportionately compared to their incidence in official statistics. Indeed, a general finding has been the lack of relationship between patterns and trends in crime news and crime statistics.”
Josh Nelson is a graduate student at the University of Guelph in the department of art history & visual culture and, beginning in September, 2013, a doctoral student in art history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His doctoral research addresses a criminal event that the Canadian print media early and, ostensibly enduringly, dubbed the “Great Canadian art fraud”; it examines the social context in which this highly-publicized incident emerged in media reports of the early 1960s, was weighted with significance, framed as portentous and defined as a “crime against culture.”

Adie Nelson received her PhD at the London School of Economics and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology & Legal Studies at the University of Waterloo. She is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of approximately two dozen books and her writings have appeared in journals such as the British Journal of Sociology, Psychology of Women Quarterly, the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Qualitative Sociology and the International Review of Victimology.

Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška Charney.

Here's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

November 10, 2012

Eleven year old boy finds and returns stolen painting to artist in British Columbia

Mathew Claxton of the Langley Advance in British Columbia broke the story of an 11-year-old boy who recovered a stolen painting from a neighbor's garage sale.  Artist Reet Herder had 17 artworks stolen from an exhibit at an art gallery in Langley in August 2005.  Matt Hanna, bargain hunter and now probably our youngest art investigator, noticed a painting of sail boats in a cove titled "Harbouring Great Memories".  Hanna Googled it and discovered the painting had been reported as stolen.  I wondered if the boy had used any of the conventional stolen art databases so I too Googled the name of the painting and discovered a website named "Stolen Fine Art", a service of MyArtClub.com so I  emailed one of the website masters, Cam Anderson, who responded to my questions.  This is an excerpt:
The Story of Stolen Fine Art really starts with Reet Herder.  Reet was the first to let us know there was an issue. Reet wrote that she and others had suffered such a devastating loss. I shocked to hear just how bad it was. We always like to respond to artist request for features, or listen to their business issues, and look for ways we can assist. This practice has been wonderful for both the artists and for our development as a service. 
Peter Newell and I put our heads together and figured we could host the images of stolen art as a collection. The MyArtClub site was already set up to host artist groups, so we simply leveraged that as a way to focus on this awful issue.  What we did ask artists for was a police reference number of some kind and police and artist contact information.  We have a form for artists to fill out (available on our website). 
Over the years Reet has been really a founding member of our website and involved in creating the form. Karma has a way doesn’t it? She helped build a service that we host and hope it is of some use to artists, and voila – her art is the one found through the Internet! 
I telephoned Reet to congratulate her on the recovery. Reet is amazed at not only the painting’s recovery but the media attention! “All I did was paint it” she says. This was one of her earlier works, but she was happy with how it had turned out. It was based on a visit to Schooner Cove. The story continues: as might be expected the painting itself was not in the best of conditions. However with luck Reet had prepared to create giclees from this art, and so offered this kind family a giclee in return which they accepted. Reet says “ the giclee’s colours look better”.  She presents it tomorrow to the father at his work.
About us: My wife Heather Anderson and a neighbour Terry Newell, both artists, thought their husbands should get together and do websites for artists.  I was studying Internet Marketing and had many years in Sales and Marketing, and Peter Newell had many years in computer software and project management.
We created the site to be a fair deal. We believe artists deserve assistance with business issues, and we wanted on our part to give back to our community using our skills. Also we found and still do find so many who offer help to artists seem to be out to gouge them. Maybe that is reality – you have to charge high prices to survive, but as we have jobs, we don’t. But look at this example: in the year 2000 a company offered my wife an artist website with 10 images for $1,000. At the time too, most artist websites were static, artists had to repay the site creators to change an artwork. We wanted to fix that.  So we kicked off MyArtClub.Com in year 2000 ( such an early time! Artists then had no digital cameras, and used scanners to create images for their sites).
We set out to launch a service for what is now $45 per year that gives amazing value for an artist website. We had to follow our artist’s wives directive – they should be able to change anything they wished, anytime, instantly. In other words, be in total control.  However, just having a website is not the answer. You need traffic.  We advise artists what they can do to build traffic, and have through newsletters and our blog tried to keep them informed about ideas and opportunities.
We felt a “portal” into the art world would help visitors see more art, and drive traffic to artists’ sites. And yet we provide each artist a standalone website. We thought the name MyArtClub fit as we are here to help both artist and art patrons connect. We also know that many artist belong to collectives, sometimes called clubs although many feel that is a little beneath the professional artist. We decided MyArtClub even if controversial had the right motivations, and buyers liked the name, so we launched it.
While we appear to be local to BC, in fact we have artists who have posted art from all over the world. Some load a free 3 images, so they can link from our portal back to their website. It is our form of links. Others sign up for an artist website, we have many across Canada and some in UK, Australia, Europe even Asia. Sadly we have had very little take up in the USA. We have really not tried hard, but I think the out of country aspect maybe an issue. Anyway, big opportunity when retired!
We are here to help artists with their Internet marketing.  We give free presentations on what artists need to know.  We host a large database which we advertise to increase artists chances of being found online. We have researched the customer base to help our artists understand the who, what, where, when and why of art buyers, and we give this report free to all who ask.  All this and so far we have not taken a single dollar of commissions.
Either we are crazy, or we really do just want to help artists progress with their business.  

October 29, 2012

Bill Reid Theft 2008: Postmedia News obtains RCMP and university campus security records to answer outstanding questions about the heist of UBC's Museum of Anthropology and the investigation that followed

Haida artist Bill Reid's art safely back on display
 at UBC's Museum of Anthropology (Photo Sezgin)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

More than four years after robbery at University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver Canada, journalist Douglas Quan has been persistent in obtaining information about the theft and the investigation that led to the recovery of the stolen Bill Reid jewelry:
Newly released RCMP and university campus security records obtained by Postmedia News through federal and provincial access-to-information laws, plus court documents, offer a fuller picture of the mysterious theft and its bizarre fallout.
At about 4:40 a.m. on May 24, 2008, thieves removed "a glass panel" from the back of the museum, "unleashed a cloud of bear spray, presumably to repel any guards who might try to intervene" and smashed a glass showcase to steal $2 million of jewelry designed by Haida artist Bill Reid (Quan, quoting campus security report).  The heist was estimated to have taken less than 3 minutes (compared to the more than 2-minute Kunsthal Rotterdam heist on October 16).  According to Quan's review of the report, "security cameras stopped recording before the break-in".  UBC's Museum of Anthropology has since been renovated and expanded.

Quan points out that in 2008 the security guard at the Museum of Anthropology had been widely reported to be on a smoking break at the time of the robbery:
Contrary to media reports that suggested he had been on a smoke break and apparently oblivious to trouble, the guard alerted dispatch when the alarms started wailing, the former security officer said.
Protocol at the time dictated that the guard stay put and that dispatch send another officer to walk through the museum.  But the walk-through never happened, the former security officer said.
An alarm falsely attributed to "invalid"and a "false sense of security" (Quan) were problematic.

According to Quan, the investigation, led by the RCMP major crimes section, involved an anonymous tip within days of the theft; police surveillance of the suspect; background checks on construction workers involved in the renovation of the museum, a fired security guard, and "disgruntled" artists who had worked with Reid.  A search of a home connected to a man with "at least 11 convictions for property crimes" led to the recovery of "all but two of the stolen items" on June 8 (just a little more than two weeks after the theft).  By August the other items were recovered: "The last piece, the argillite pipe, was dropped off anonymously. (Quan)"

Then in January 2009, CBC reported the RCMP had paid $20,000 to a criminal informant for "help with the investigation."  According to Quan, the RCMP "would not say this week who received the money or how much was paid" and the case is "unresolved" and that "two years after charges were recommended in the museum heist, Crown counsel notified RCMP there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges."

October 26, 2012

Theft Anniversary: Two artifacts (Assyrian and Roman) stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Art last year


by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Last year on October 26, someone stole two ancient sculptures from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Three months later, the Montreal Gazette and AXA Art, the insurance company which insured the pieces, released a video on YouTube from the surveillance camera inside the museum showing a suspect wanted for questioning in the investigation.

AXA Art Insurance issued a press release dated February 13, 2012: "AXA Art Offering Substantial Reward for Safe Recovery of Rare Artifacts".  The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts issued no press release in 2011 or 2012 regarding the theft, a reward, or an ongoing investigation -- at least it's not listed on the museum's website.

The Sûreté du Québec's Art Alerte publicized the stolen works  and the poster in English and French offering the "Substantial Reward" also on February 14 (Alain Dumouchel responded in an email at that time that the Montreal police were in charge of the investigation).  The Art Alerte for Case File: 11-98 also included a picture of the suspect captured by the museum's surveillance cameras.

Reward Poster

The "Head of a guard" (fragment of a low relief) is estimated to as old as 5th century BCE from Persepolis (Persia), the capital of the Achaemenid dynasty (558-330 BC).

Assyrian low relief Sandstone, 21 x 20.5 x 3 cm
A marble head dating from the Roman
 Empire 20,2 x 13,3 x 8,5 cm
The second object, Head of a Man (Egypto-archaizing style) of yellow Numidian marble, is dated from the Roman Empire around 1st century A.D.

Neither of these objects was highlighted in the MMFA's museum guide.

In 1972, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was the site of Canada's largest art theft when three thieves stole 18 paintings, including a painting attributed to Rembrandt.  The theft remains unsolved after an aborted ransom attempt and 17 of the paintings are still missing.

September 5, 2012

40th anniversary of Canada's biggest art theft quietly passes

This painting by Rembrandt was stolen from
the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
 in 1972 and remains missing. 
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor

Forty years ago today three men robbed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts -- they have never been caught and 17 of the paintings have never been found.

When three men stole 18 paintings by such well-known artists as Rembrandt, Corot, Courbet, Breughel and Millet from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on September 4, 1972 it was the largest art theft in North America.  The thieves have never been arrested for this art heist and the pictures remain missing but it was not the perfect crime.  The setting off of an old security alarm scared the thieves off and prevented them from stealing more art.  And the attempt to ransom back the loot, which also included 39 pieces of jewelry and decorative art, failed.

One of the difficulties of describing the robbery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972 is that the police do not show the crime's files to journalists or researchers since the case remains open.  Luana Parker's reporting after the heist for The [Montreal] Gazette under the headline "Art worth $2 million stolen from museum" provided the foundation for much of information about the thieves' physical description and how they stole the paintings and 39 pieces of jewelry and decorative art. Her work is footnoted in an academic article on this subject published in the Spring 2011 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Five years ago, retired journalist Bill Bantey, the museum's director of public relations and the first official alerted to the art heist, wrote an article about the theft. In 2009, I met with Mr. Bantey and retired Montreal police officer Alain Lacoursière to piece together information about the theft.  Mr. Lacoursière discussed information he recalled from working on the case in the 1990s while investigating art crime.

Here's a synopsis of my version of the art heist nicknamed "The Skylight Caper" (by columnist L. Ian MacDonald writing "Montreal this morning" for The Gazette in 1975):

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was robbed in the early hours of Labor Day on September 5, 1972. The city had plenty of distractions that weekend. On Friday night, three men set fire to the Blue Bird Café and Wagon Wheel killing 37 people of the 200 trapped on the supper floor of the country western bar.  On Saturday night, Canada's national hockey team lost 7-3 to the "amateur" team from the Soviet Union which stunned overly confidant fans.  Sunday's newspapers were filled with stories about the victims from Montreal's fatal fire, otherwise Montreal residents were looking forward to a rematch against the Russians in Toronto the next day and marking the end of a summer exposition with fireworks.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the city's most prestigious art gallery was expecting a quiet weekend. The museum's director, its head of security, and even the president of the Board of Trustees were on vacation in Mexico and the United States. The 60-year-old building housing the art collection, created through donations from some of Canada's wealthiest residents, had a skylight under repair and was scheduled to be closed for a major renovation.

Early Monday morning a man wearing "picks" on his boots (similar to equipment worn by telephone and utility repair personnel) scaled a tree outside of the building on Sherbrooke Street to reach the roof. He found a construction ladder, slipped it down to the ground for two more men to join him on top of the museum building.  The three men walked over to the skylight under construction and opened it up. A plastic tarp laid down by the construction crew had de-activated the skylight's alarm. The thieves, who had a 12-pump shotgun and a .38 Smith and Wesson handgun, slid down nylon ropes at about 1.30 a.m. They ordered a security guard to lie down on the floor, when he did not move quickly enough, two shots were fired into the ceiling. Two more guards arrived and the thieves tied up the three guards.  While one man watched the security guards, the other two men gathered up paintings, jewelry and other valuable portable objects.  Luana Parker cites this description of the thieves from the police report:
They said they saw two long-haired men, about five feet, six inches tall, and wearing ski hoods and sports clothes.  One spoke French, the other English.  But they heard another French voice of a man they never saw.
The thieves planned to escape in a museum panel truck parked in the garage.  However, one of the thieves "tripped the side-entry alarm on his way out with the first load, the men ran out, taking what they could" (Parker).

While Parker reported that the thieves "escaped in a panel truck", Alain Lacoursière told me that the thieves ran out of the building, carrying only half of the paintings that they had selected.

Bill Bantey, the senior museum official on duty that weekend, received a phone call from the head security guard about an hour after the thieves had escaped.  He told the security guard to call the police, and then Bantey went down to the museum in the early morning hours.  Ruth Jackson, a long-time museum curator, also arrived at the museum, now a crime scene, and would describe later what she saw:
There was a sea of broken frames and backings, and smashed showcases.  Upstairs in the room where the major theft took place, it was just devastation.  They'd cleaned it out completely. 
For the second pile, they'd gone around selecting from various rooms.  I shudder when I think what might have been if they hadn't opened that door ... With what they'd proposed to remove, if they'd been undisturbed -- it was just like they meant a general clear out of the museum.
Mr. Bantey organized a press conference a few hours later and released information about the stolen paintings.  Only one painting was recovered a few months later.

You can read more about the theft on my blog here and see images of the stolen paintings.

August 31, 2012

Approaching 40th anniversary of Canada's largest art theft: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 4, 1972


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Forty years ago, someone was plotting the largest art theft in Canadian history.  The plan was to steal the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ masterpiece paintings over Labor Day Weekend.  Although the thieves aborted the job and ended up taking fewer paintings, the three men who entered the museum on September 4, 1972, have never been arrested or imprisoned for this robbery.

In 1972, the art collection was housed in a three-story building that was already 60 years old.  Workers had been on the roof repairing a skylight for weeks.  The thieves may have been one of the people who had sat in chairs on the roof seeking relief from the sweltering August heat.  They would have had the opportunity to watch the routines of the security guards, typically unarmed university students also charged with managing the parking and traffic around Canada’s oldest art institution.

Summers in Montreal are typically hot and humid and nearly empty.  Residents traditionally retreat to the Laurentian Mountains or south of the Canadian border to escape the heat.  On that weekend, the museum’s president of the board of trustees, its director, and security director had all fled to the United States and Mexico for their holidays leaving Bill Bantey, the museum’s director of public relations, the most senior museum official on duty that weekend.

Mr. Bantey, a political and criminal journalist who had also worked for two decades for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was my mentor in 2009 when I traveled to Montreal to study this unsolved museum theft.  I was not allowed to read the police files on this still-open case although I met twice with a semi-retired Montreal police officer, Alain Lacoursière, who told me what he recalled from his investigation and his recollection of the information in the files.  Mr. Lacoursière appeared to have been the only one to investigate the case in recent years.  Both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière had appeared in a film, Le Colombo d’Art, which identified a suspect in the theft who refused to confess or release information as the whereabouts of the stolen paintings supposedly by Rembrandt, Jean Brueghel the Elder, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, Narcisse-Virgile de la Peña, Thomas Gainsborough, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jean-François Millet, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Peter Paul Rubens, and François-André Vincent.

The museum opened its archives to me and I spent days reading about the stolen paintings and jewels.  Many articles had been written in the more than 35 years since the robbery on the theft, the attempted ransom, and speculation on the whereabouts of the missing 17 paintings.  In separate conversations with me, both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière believed that the paintings had not been destroyed and had probably been sent out of the country to a jurisdiction friendly to members of organized crime who spent Quebec’s cold winters in warmer southern climates.

On this anniversary I find myself wondering about the three thieves who climbed up onto the roof of a three-story building, opened up an unsecured skylight, and vaulted down ropes into the museum.  At least one of the three carried a gun and shot off a round when the first guard hesitated to drop to the floor.  Then the thieves tied up three guards and spent about one-half to an hour in the museum selecting 39 paintings, which also included works by El Greco, Picasso, Tintoretto, and a second Rembrandt.  The thieves piled up the paintings and then one of them opened the door into the garage where they had planned to use a museum van to escape.  However, the alarm to that door was engaged and frightened the thieves who did not know that the alarm was not hooked up to a source outside of the museum.  The thieves panicked, grabbed the paintings they could, and supposedly escaped on foot out of the museum down Sherbrooke, a major east-west boulevard that transverses the city from some of the wealthiest residential neighborhoods passed McGill University and the École des beaux-arts.

I think about the three thieves running supposedly unseen down the street with more than $2 million worth of insured paintings.  Was this their first theft? Did they steal again? Were they art students paid to rob the museum for an ‘art dealer’ who’s clients were willing to purchase stolen paintings?

In the 1966 art heist movie How to Steal a Million starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, two thieves rendezvous in the bar at the Ritz Hotel in Paris the day after committing the robber: “We did it! Did you see the paper and the television? Did you hear the radio? It’s the crime of the century, practically, and we did it!”

Who wants the bragging rights to having robbed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts more than four decades ago?

You may read more about Canada's largest art theft on my blog here.

August 27, 2012

"Q&A on Art Crime in Canada" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A on Art Crime in Canada" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. You may read the rest of this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.
In 2008 the Sureté du Quebec, in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, established the first national art crime investigation team in Canada’s history. The four-man team is now led by Jean-Francois Talbot, who has worked since 2003 with Alain Lacoursiere, an art historian and retired member of the Montreal police. Lacoursiere, who has been nominated for an ARCA Award, helped in the development of an art crime team in Canada and a system called Art Alert, which is an email bulletin sent out to 25,000 subscribers in 75 countries, largely members of the art community and police departments. Between 2004 and 2008, a combined force of agents from the Sureté du Quebec and the Montreal police department investigated around 450 art crimes, made 20 arrests, and seized over 150 stolen or forged artworks, with a total estimated value of around $2 million. The newly-established art crime team handles an average of 90 art crime cases per year. ARCA interviewed the art crime team, including Alain Dumouchel, to learn a bit more about art crime and investigation in Canada.

July 18, 2012

Noah Charney on "Art Crime in North America" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

A shorter version of this lecture was delivered via Skype to the conference entitled “Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation, and Prosecution of Art Crime,” organized by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policingand Security (CEPS) at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia on May 1-2, 2012. An extended version, including citations and new edits, will be published in two upcoming academic publications, both organized by CEPS.
Today I’m pleased to speak about art crime in North America. It is refreshing for me not to have to introduce art crime in general—if anyone knows about it, it will be my fellow speakers. So many of us are obliged to begin talks with an introduction to art crime, because the extent of it, and the facts obscured by fiction, film, and media misinterpretation, create a screen that can be difficult to see beyond. Even the facts, presented by reputable sources like the US Department of Justice, are not always clear and coherent. They rank art crime as the third highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide, behind only the drug and arms trades. This is based on a study that my friend and colleague, Vernon Rapley, could tell you more about—it was a combined Interpol and Scotland Yard study that was also integrated into the UK Threat Assessment in 2006/2007. Another number that we hear is that art crime is worth $6 billion per year. Of course no one has any real idea, and that number is little more than an arbitrary guess. It could only reflect the estimated black market value of art registered as stolen (meaning 7-10% of its estimated auction value, which is itself an unscientific measurement). If that number is correct, then art crime cannot be the third highest- grossing criminal trade. The number is far too low, and human trafficking, even illegal traffic of plants and animals, might be considered higher. We simply don’t know, which can be frustrating—it is also one of the reasons why art crime has gone relatively understudied until recent years. Criminologists shy away from a field such as this, which lacks extensive and accurate empirical data, and relies on macro-analysis from anecdotal material and the experience of those in the field, often related orally or even through the unreliable filter of the media.

May 2, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Interpol and UNESCO listed art theft as the fourth-largest black market in the world (after drugs, money-laundering, and weapons).  But what did that mean? After I’d been following [Bonnie] Czegledi’s career for several years, one point was clear: don't look at the Hollywood versions of an art thief -- the Myth.  This is a bigger game, with more players, and the legitimate business of art is directly implicated.  A lot of the crimes are hidden in the open.  Stealing art is just the beginning.  Then the art is laundered up into the legitimate market, into private collections, into the world's most renowned museums.
 -- Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art

Toronto journalist Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art (Tin House Books, 2012), introduces to the general reader the international problem of art crime and the limited resources of legal authorities in fighting this problem in the first decade of the 21st century.

In 2003, Knelman was just a 26-year-old researcher for the Canadian magazine Walrus when he stumbled down the rabbit hole of art theft and recovery.  A gallery owner hesitant to speak about the theft of $250,000 worth of photographs stolen two years earlier opens up to Knelman after police recover part of the stolen artwork.  Knelman eventually contacts the suspect’s lawyer, and that leads to a midnight phone call from the thief who has been investigating Knelman. The two meet in a café in Toronto.  The aspiring reporter is physically threatened, given stolen art, and then lectured by the thief about how the secretive business practices in the legitimate art market actually supports art crime.  Thus begins Knelman’s adventures through the world of thieves and investigators of looted art.

The journalist befriends Bonnie Czegledi, a Toronto attorney specializing in art crime, who educates Knelman about the types of stolen art and cultural property: missing Holocaust-looted artworks; pillaging of antiquities from source countries such as Egypt, Afghanistan, and Turkey; multi-million dollar thefts from museums worldwide; and unreported thefts from galleries and residences.  Knelman writes:
The world’s cultural heritage had become one big department store, and thieves of all kinds, at all levels, were shoplifting with impunity, as if the one security guard on duty was out on a smoke break.
Stolen art can be laundered through auction houses and art dealers; police aren’t trained to investigate art theft; and lawyers aren’t trained to prosecute them.  “Meanwhile, the criminal network is international, sophisticated and organized,” Czegledi says.

Ten years ago when Knelman first met Czegledi, tools to recover stolen art included Interpol’s stolen art database; the International Council of Museum’s guidelines for the buying practices of museums; the International Foundation for Art Research; and the Art Loss Register.

For example, Knelman relates that a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum was offered the chance to buy some Iraqi antiquities (the institution declined).  This was after the National Museum of Iraq was looted in 2003 and about 25 years after Canada had signed the 1970 Convention barring importing stolen artwork across international borders.

Knelman points out that only a handful of detectives worldwide have the expertise and training to investigate art thefts – from the pairs of police officers located in Montreal and Los Angeles to the larger European squads in England and Italy.

In 2005, Knelman’s published an article in The Walrus, “Artful Crimes” which highlights art crime in Canada against an increasingly global and transnational problem.  But he wasn’t done with the story.  Two years later, Knelman paid his own way to join cultural attorney Czegledi at the International Ccouncil of Museum’s conference in Cairo.  American prosecutor Rick St. Hilaire guides him through Egyptian history of ancient art crimes and summarizes the problem of smuggling of antiquities today which Knelman smartly summarizes in his book.  Knelman also meets Alain Lacoursière, the police officer that initiated the study of art crime in Quebec, while dodging an Egyptian conference organizer who demands the journalist pay a higher rate on his hotel room – Knelman sleeps on the floor in another room to avoid paying the organizer his cut.

By 2008, Knelman has a contract to write an investigative book on the mysterious and increasingly violent black market for stolen art.  He goes online to find an art thief interviewed by the magazine Foreign Policy.  He tracks down Paul Hendry, a Brighton knocker who graduated to handling millions of dollars in stolen paintings and antiques.  “We struck up what turned out to be a three-year conversation,” Knelman writes.  “We started to talk once, twice, sometimes three times a week.”

“It was easy to make a living from stealing art, according to Paul, if a thief made intelligent choices, if he stayed below a certain value mark – about $100,000.  Less was better.  Don’t steal a van Gogh.  To someone who knew how to work the system, the legitimate business of fine art became a giant laundry machine for stolen art.  You could steal a piece and sell it back into the system without anyone being the wiser.”
 
“It’s called ‘pass the hot potato,’” Paul told me.  “A dealer sells it on to the next dealer, and the next, until nobody knows where it came from.  It’s a fantastic system!  And that system is the same wherever you are.  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about London, New York or New Delhi,” he explained.  “Art is something you have to think about as a commodity that goes round in circles.  The only time it appears in the open is when someone tries to filter it into the legitimate art market – auctions, art fairs, gallery sales, dealers.  Otherwise it’s hidden away inside someone’s home.”

Hendry grew up in Brighton and learned his outlaw trade as a “Knocker” who talked elderly residents out of their art and antiques.  Since 1965 Sussex Police had been responding to a high number of residential burglaries and created England’s first Art and Antiques Squad that operated until 1989.

According to Paul, in the 1960s Brighton closed down a large open-air market and built a huge shopping mall, Churchill Square.  Produce vendors started going door to door, which created opportunities to buy “good junk.”  They became known as “knockers”.

Knockers sold “junk” to antique dealers at a price higher than they had paid for it.  Knocking turned into a devious game that allowed thieves to peek at the inventory inside the houses of the upper middle class.’

Hendry tells Knelman of his poor and chaotic childhood, his training on the streets of crime, and how he hires local men from the neighborhood bar to break into homes and steal family treasures that Hendry can then sell.

The second part of this book review continues tomorrow.