Thursday, 5 November 2015




Though I knew museum thefts to be common, it seems that they are far more frequent than I had imagined. They also seem to be fairly overt (in the news at least); less secretive and more of the smash and grab variety. Thankfully though, recoveries seem to be just as common, though the space in between can be quite... variable. Unfortunately, I haven't touched on the situation in the Levant here as there is a lot of ground to cover, but I do hope to do so later.

So here are a selection 14 cases that have either just been solved, are still ongoing with a new strategy, or have just begun. Click on the headings for more info!

Motoshige: Chido Museum. Source

1. Swords reunited? (The Motoshige Sword)- Sakai Family/ Chido Museum 

Stolen in 1986 with its shorter twin, the 14th century Motoshige sword of the Sakai family has been recovered by a private buyer (with permission from the family). Similarly, the Chido museum managed to recover the short sword earlier in 1986. In September, an exhibition was set up at the Chido museum to celebrate the recovery but unfortunately, the Motoshige was not planned to be returned to the Sakai family, so what will happen next is unknown.

2. Isabella Gardner Museum CCTV Footage

While the Isabella Stweart Gardner Museum has yet to recover the stolen subjects from the infamous heist in 1990, surveillance footage of the theft is available online in hopes that someone will recognize the culprit. At 25 years though, one wonders if it will help.

The museum also has a virtual exhibition and 3-D tour on the stolen objects as well.                                                                            

3. Elton John's Heart Shaped Glasses- Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum 

Heart Shaped Glasses. Source
Once owned by one Sir Elton Hercules John, a British musician active since 1964, these glasses were worn for a song by the name of “Don't Go Breaking My Heart.” They were stolen on April 21, but not six days later they were recovered in a mailbox, and a man has been indicted based on a matching fingerprint from the display case and his admission of guilt over the phone. In some cases, it can be that fast. 

La Coiffeuse Source

4. Picasso's 'La Coiffeuse'   

Stolen 14 years ago, Picasso's 'La Coiffeuse' was recovered in a shipping container after police received a mysterious tip. It's worth according to the shipping label? 30 Francs or 39.76 CAD/ 30.21 USD.


5. Auschwitz

Personal Effects. Source: Polish Police
Two teenagers on a school trip were caught stealing a number of prisoners' effects from Auschwitz. Why these teenagers stole them isn't clear, but the most frustrating thing is that it was not an isolated incident. Other attempts have been made. Is it a question of trying to own a piece of the past? Just a dare?

In a previous, unrelated case, a neo-Nazi was among the suspects apprehended for attempting to steal a sign at the site.

6. Science Imaginarium- Bluedom Science Imaginarium

Space Exhibits. Source
An 18 year old stole a trailer full of space displays for a children's museum in Waterloo only to dump it in a creek. Likely prank, but they are worth $75, 000, and I couldn't help but imagine the potential value of these children's science displays on the black market.

7. Roman Altar- Senhouse Roman Museum 


Roman Altar. Source: BBC

An example of one of the great fears of open displays and mounts, a Roman altar was stolen in August from the Senhouse Roman Museum. There is CCTV footage of the theft, so perhaps it will be found, but the altar will never be in the same condition. The museum is said to be reviewing its security practices.

8. 5th Century Achaemenid Bas Relief/ 1st. Century 'Roman Head'- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

5th Century Achaemenid Bas Relief. Source: Quebec Provincial Police.
Much like the Roman altar above, this Achaemenid panel was stolen from an open mount in 2011, but was finally recovered in 2014 by a team made up by the Sûreté du Québec, Alberta RCMP and RCMP Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team and the Alberta RCMP in an Edmonton home. The original thief has yet to be found.

9. Body Parts- Siriraj Medical Museum

Perhaps the most immediately disturbing and unsettling in the list, body parts stolen from the Siriraj Medical Museum in Bangkok were found in a series of packages by DHL employees before they could be sent abroad. There are three suspects, but no arrests have been made.

10. Stolen Rodin- Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum 

Rodin's Man with Broken Nose was stolen from Copenhagen's Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum just this July. There was no dramatic heist or plan; it was taken in broad daylight and the thief strolled out the front door. CCTV footage is available.

11. Guns and Scabbard- Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery 

Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery. Source

Two revolvers and a scabbard were stolen during Diwali in October 2014 from the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery. Curiously enough, the sword itself was simply discarded at the museum. The gold scabbard was acquired in 1986 and the revolvers were gifted this year. As with the Senhouse Museum, they are now also reviewing their security measures after the fact.

12. Pearl Harbour Jeep- Imperial War Museum Duxford 

Pearl Harbour Jeep. Source
An entire Jeep was stolen during a show at the Imperial War Museum Duxford last July. It was not a permanent part of the museum’s collection, but an heirloom that was passed down from parent to child by the veteran who originally owned it.

13. Dorothy's Red Slippers-Judy Garland Museum 

Red Slippers from the Judy Garland Museum. Source: Associated Press
One of Dorothy's pairs of red slippers from the Wizard of Oz was stolen in 2005 and there has yet to be any new leads. An unnamed donor is offering a 1 million dollar reward for new information on the case. It's been close to 4 months since the offer was announced but there has yet to be any new leads.


14. Machine Gun-Road to Victory Military Museum 

Type of .30 Cslibre Machine Gun stolen. Source: Road to Victory Military Museum

A full sized, belt fed machine gun was stolen from its mount on top of an armored car in August 2015.

Thankfully it is inoperative, though it can make “realistic gunfire-like sounds...” by creating "small explosions"


Bonus: The Museum of Stolen Art

I'll leave you with this interesting project that collects together a number of stolen works into one online exhibition. It's designed for the Oculus Rift, but it can still be enjoyed without it.

No comments:

Post a Comment