Art heist of the century ends up in ashes: EUR 18 mln worth of famous paintings stolen from Dutch museum burned in countryside stove in Romania

The seven paintings stolen by a group of Romanians from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam in October 2012 ended up burned in a village in Tulcea county, Romania, where the mother of one of the thieves lives. Radu Dogaru, one of the men who broke into the museum last year and stole the paintings , brought them to Romania inside pillows, and then deposited at his mother’s house in the village of Carcaliu, Tulcea county.

When the investigation started, and after the men failed to find buyers for the paintings, Dogaru’s mother got scared and buried the paintings in the yard of a deserted house nearby her home, then in the graveyard, and finally, after prosecutors searched her house in February this year, she dug them out and burned them in her stove. This is how Picasso’s Tete d’Arlequin, Monet’s Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge, Freud’s Woman with Eyes Closed, Matisse’s La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune, Gauguin’s Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte (in picture) and Meyer de Haan’s Autoportrait, all ended up in ashes in a countryside stove in Eastern Romania.

Three men were initially involved in the heist which caused a EUR 18 million prejudice: Radu Dogaru and Adrian Procop, who broke into the museum, without expecting to find artworks of great value, and Eugen Darie, who was an accomplice. After stealing them, the three took off the frames and hid the canvases in pillows which were deposited in the trunk of their car. They entered Romania by car and nobody searched their car at the border. The group tried to sell the paintings with the help of various accomplices, but to no avail, as nobody was interested in buying the stolen artwork.

Dogaru’s mother confessed she decided to burn the paintings in an attempt to help her son and hoping that if no evidence of the heist was found, he would escape jail. The prosecutors sent the remaining ashes in the woman’s stove to the National Museum of History for a technical expertise, which is still ongoing. The woman could be sent to jail from 10 to 20 years. Other Romanians are also involved in this case, as accomplices, and the prosecutors also started cases against them. The entire file has been sent by prosecutors to the Sector 3 Court, which has set a first court date for August 3.

During the investigation, prosecutors revealed that the thieves and their crime, which was described at the time as “the heist of the century,” have appeared more and more like bungling amateurs getting lucky as more information has been released. It came to light that the thieves knew little or nothing about the paintings and their value and had no idea where or how to sell them.

The Romanian police arrested the three suspects back in January 2013, after a tip-off from a former girlfriend of one of the three. The robbery itself took place on October 16 last year and was described by news organization Deutsche Welles as a “lightning speed, audacious theft,” in which the thieves broke into the museum, stole the paintings and made their escape within 90 seconds. At the time, the heist baffled Dutch Police, who couldn’t understand how the thieves had got round the museum’s alarm systems.

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