Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sensational Art Heists

Sweden's National Museum Heist

Sweden, National Museum
Sweden, National Museum
On December 22, 2000, three masked thieves, one of whom was armed with a machine gun, held up Stockholms Swedish National museum nearing closing time. According to a BBC News article, one of the thieves stood in the lobby with his gun pointed at security staff, while the other two ran off in separate directions looking for target paintings to steal. At the same time the robbery was in progression, two cars exploded in other parts of the city.

The explosions were purposely set off to create a diversion. It was a creatively deceptive tactic that had police running in different directions throughout the city, thus limiting their response to the museum robbery already in full swing. Moreover, CNN reported that the robbers scattered spikes on the road to further delay pursuers.

Young Parisian, Renoir
Young Parisian, Renoir

It took only minutes for the art thieves to make off with two French impressionist paintings by Renoir titled Young Parisian and Conversation with the Gardner and one self-portrait by the Dutch master Rembrandt. The three paintings were valued at a staggering $30 million. Unfortunately, they were uninsured.

Following the robbery, the men jumped onto a speedboat waiting for them at the waterfront museum and raced away into the darkness, the BBC reported. The scene closely mimicked that often depicted in action movies and was almost as unbelievable to museum visitors who witnessed the crime. The getaway boat was found several hours later in a nearby neighborhood located south of the city. The robbery was considered one of the countrys biggest heists, with the exception of one in 1993 at the citys modern art museum where eight works were stolen, including those by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, valued at $60 million.

Rembrandt, self-portrait
Rembrandt, self-portrait
 

Police Inspector Thomas Johansson was quoted by the BBC saying he believed that the robbers likely disappeared on to any of thousands of tiny islands in the archipelago off Stockholm or into the dense forests that surround the city. He also suggested that the robbery might have been a contract job ordered by someone who just wanted the paintings for their own sake. However, days after the robbery the police received pictures of the stolen works and a demand for several million dollars in ransom, which indicated the theft was instead financially motivated.

By the first week of the New Year eight men, including seven Swedes and a Russian, ages ranging from 19 to 43 were arrested in connection with the heist. One of the Swedish suspects was a Stockholm criminal lawyer, who allegedly acted as a middle man when the robbers contacted the police to demand ransom for the paintings, according to CNN. Stockholms district court tried the men and sentenced two of them to up to six years in prison for armed robbery and the other five men to up to four years for accessory to armed robbery, according to the BBC.

Conversation w Gardner, Renoir
Conversation with the Gardener, Renoir
To the museums delight, Renoirs Conversation with the Gardner was eventually recovered during a drug raid. Yet, the other two paintings remain lost. It is hoped that they will be discovered so that the public may once again enjoy their beauty. Investigators continue to look for them, believing that they are circulating somewhere on the black market.

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