Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Faking It : Elmyr de Hory - The Century's Greatest Art Forger


Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr de Hory

Elmyr decided to temporarily stay put in his house in Ibiza, realizing that it was only a matter of time before the police knocked on his door. But he did not stay for long. Legros, embittered by the abrupt end of his career and his relationship with Lessard, decided to move into the house on Ibiza, which he supposedly gave to Elmyr. He quickly established sole ownership of the residence and threatened Elmyr with eviction. Unable to live with Legros violent rages, Elmyr left the house and fled to Europe.

Not long after Elmyrs departure, Legros and Lessard were apprehended by police and charged with a series of criminal violations including passing bad checks and fraud. Both men were later found guilty and sent to prison. Elmyr continued to elude the police for a while but grew weary of life on the run. He decided to return to Ibiza and await his fate.

At about the same time, the Spanish courts were preparing their case against Elmyr. Irvingstated that Elmyr was eventually brought to trial and indicted for charges ranging from homosexuality and consorting with known criminals to no visible means of support. He was never directly charged with forgery or fraud because there was no solid proof that he ever had done a single painting in Spain. He was sentenced to two months in prison and awaited sentencing on the other charges.

Elmyr was released from jail in October 1968 and was immediately expelled from Ibiza only to return the following year. Surprisingly, soon after his release, Elmyr reached celebrity status. For the first time in his life he was finally being recognized for his unusual gift for creating masterful forgeries. He appeared on television, collaborated with author Clifford Irving in the writing of his biography entitled Fake! and was even the subject of a 1972 Orson Wells movie called F for Fake, which chronicled his life.

Video cover of F for Fake
Video cover of F for Fake

Basking in his newfound fame, Elmyr decided to try painting again, hoping that the media exposure  would boost sales. This time he vowed to produce only original works. Over the years he had several gallery showings and to his pleasure he was able to sell many pieces of his own work. The profit he made was nowhere near the amount he had earned for his forgeries. But he was now a legitimate artist, earning an honest living, and eager to get on with the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, his eagerness faded when he learned that France was trying to extradite him on charges of fraud. He was terrified at the thought of going back to jail, knowing that if he did his sentence it would likely last the majority of his remaining life. Elmyr decided to take matters into his own hands.

Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr de Hory

On December 11, 1976, Elmyr was discovered dead in his home. He had apparently committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Talbot stated that there was some mystery concerning his funeral and uncertainty whether he was actually dead or merely faking it. In fact, Elmyrs friends believed he planned his own phony funeral in an attempt to escape extradition. However, there is no evidence to support this theory. Its most likely that Elmyr committed suicide and lies in his tomb on the island he loved so much. He will forever be noted as one of Ibizas most illustrious, if not notorious inhabitants, and one of the most talented art forgers the world has ever known.

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