Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sensational Heists

Greece's Largest Theft of Antiquities

Corinth, Greece
Corinth, Greece

In the early morning hours of April 12, 1990, a group of four robbers broke into the Greeces prized Museum of Corinth, which housed precious ancient artifacts. Moments after they gained entry into the museum through the atrium roof, they overcame a security guard, then headed towards two rooms in which Greco-Roman pieces were on exhibition. The robbers plundered 285 objects from the exhibition worth some $2 million, as well as $3,000 worth of payroll money before making off into the night.

Dionysius, Corinth Museum
Dionysius, Corinth Museum

Many of the stolen items, some of which were excavated in 1866 by the American School of Classical Studies were, characteristic works of Corinthian art, according to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. The valuable pieces included, a sculpted marble kouros head from the 5th century and 14 other marble sculptures, 40 black Attic vases, 85 Corinthian vases and 49 terracotta figurines, as well as other significant objects of art. The theft was considered the biggest antiquities theft in the countrys history.

The police immediately launched a wide scale investigation in the hopes of recovering the plundered items. The police distributed pictures of the objects and alerted airports, embassies, consulates and regional police departments around the world of the theft. They knew that the more informed people were of the stolen objects, the better the chances someone might spot them somewhere and report it to the authorities.

The whereabouts of the artifacts remained a mystery for nine years. Then, in September 1999, a tip led investigators to a storage house in Miami, Florida where they found twelve boxes loaded with the stolen artifacts packed amongst crates of fish, Frances DEmilio reported in an Associated Press article. In all, 274 of the 285 pieces were recovered. The discovery sent waves of exuberance throughout Greece and the art world.

FBI logo
FBI logo

The FBI, who assisted in the investigation, said a woman named Wilma Sabala was identified as having possession of most of the collection. At the time, the artifacts were consigned to Christies Auction House in New York. In fact, even though several of the pieces had been auctioned off, most have been recovered. Approximately eleven pieces of the collection are still unaccounted for.

Sabala has since been arrested and sentenced to one year in prison after pleading guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property, Nikos Axarlis reported in an article for the Archeological Institute of America. Five other people, all Greek nationals, were implicated in the robbery, including Tryfonas Karahalios, aged around 67 at the time of the crime, his two sons Tryfonas and Anastasios and his wife Thaleia, as well as another suspect, Ioannis Loris. In January 2001, Anastasios was tried for his part in the crime and sentenced to life in prison, the severest sentence ever meted out for an archeologically related crime in Greece. Ioannis and Thaleia were acquitted for lack of evidence connecting them to the robbery. Tryfonas and his namesake are being tried in absentia, and are believed to be hiding out somewhere in South America.

 

 

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