Rarely is there a heist that’s so expertly executed that it feels like the stuff of cinema.
But, in mid-October 2012, such a heist played out at the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, when a team of Romanian criminals broke in and made off with art worth millions.
The mastermind behind the heist was 28-year-old Radu Dogaru, who, along with his small crew, had moved to the Netherlands in search of greener pastures.
When that didn’t really work out financially, they started robbing private residences, until Dogaru spotted a poster advertising the museum.
In true Ocean’s Eleven style, they spent a few days casing the joint, and picking out the paintings they would like to take home.
When the operation was eventually executed on October 16, per MEL Magazine, they managed to make off with seven paintings, which included:
Claude Monet’s ‘Waterloo Bridge’
Pablo Picasso’s ‘Harlequin Head’
Henri Matisse’s ‘Woman Reading in White and Yellow’
Jacob Meijer de Haan’s ‘Zelfportret’
The following day the artworks, valued then at an estimated $65 million, were piled into a car and driven to Romania.
The thieves held the artworks hostage, asking the insurance company that holds a policy on them to pay out instead of paying full price on the policy.
At one point, they even accused the Dutch authorities of insurance fraud, claiming that they’d tried to return the paintings but had been denied.
The next step was to sell the works to a shady buyer who wouldn’t worry about where they came from. In this case, the suspected buyer was Constantin Dinescu, also known as ‘the Baron of Luxury’.
He’s dead now, supposedly after his favourite Ukrainian sex worker poisoned him in a nightclub, following which the cops searched his home, finding a hidden gallery of illicit art. Unfortunately, none of the stolen works was from the Kunsthal heist.
Then there’s Dogaru’s mom, Olga, whose house was ransacked in search of the paintings. She says that she had a few lying around at one point but became scared and buried them. She was worried that someone had seen her bury the paintings, so she dug them up again and buried them in a graveyard.
Finally, she said that she dug them up once again and burned them.
A Romanian art critic, Pavel Susara, says that he found her story interesting.
“Olga Dogaru describes how she made the fire, put wood on it and burned the paintings, like she was burning a pair of slippers. She’s either a repressed writer, or she’s describing exactly what she did.”
Holes in her story started to show when one of the ‘destroyed’ paintings popped up for sale on the black market a few years later. She then retracted her story and the paintings were declared missing.
This woman sounds just as dodgy as her son.
The latest twist happened in 2015 when novelist Mira Feticu wrote a book based on the heist. Following its publication, she received a “clue” as to the alleged whereabouts of the stolen Picasso. She followed it and found what she thought was the painting buried under a tree.
It turns out it was a fake planted there by two Dutch artists, Bart Baeleand and Yves Degryse, as a publicity stunt for their upcoming documentary, Dutch Art Thief.
The artworks were never found, and remain missing.
Dogaru was prosecuted for his crime and sentenced to seven years in prison.
He told the court that he “could not imagine that a museum would exhibit such valuable works with so little security”.
One hopes they’ve upped their game since then.
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