Wednesday, February 01, 2006

1978 Case Solved

The Boston Globe has a fascinating story on the resolution, after 28 years, of "the largest unsolved burglary from a private residence in [Massachusetts] history." Turns out a 71-year old retired criminal lawyer had the seven paintings, including a Cezanne, which he claims "were left with him by the lead suspect in a theft" whom the lawyer was representing in another case and was later shot to death "by two men who had come to his Pittsfield home to collect on a debt." One interesting twist, among many, is that in 1999 the lawyer, through a shell company, had actually struck a deal with the former owner under which the Cezanne was returned to him in exchange for title to the other six paintings. (The Cezanne was later auctioned off at Sotheby's for $29.3 million.) The former owner took the (quite reasonable) position that the 1999 contract was coerced and therefore not binding. One lesson here is how hard it is to actually convert stolen art into cash. Another is how valuable it can be to report art thefts to the Art Loss Register, which reportedly blocked two attempts to sell the stolen works here. UPDATE: This Guardian story has more on ALR's role.