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Five Fact Friday - Famous Thefts

View profile for Chris Hall
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Five Fact Friday - Famous Thefts

We are all in need of a good news story at the moment.  

So it was welcome news when, earlier this week, it was revealed that the mural created by street artist Banksy on a door of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris where, tragically, 90 people were killed by terrorists in 2015 has been recovered.  

The mural was stolen nearly 18 months ago but was found by Italian police in the region of Abruzza following a search of a farmhouse there.

So, here are five famous frauds, fleecings, and filchings.

  1. The Mona Lisa

Let’s start with another art theft, albeit of a piece a bit more famous than even Banksy’s creation! 

On 21st August 1911, the Mona Lisa went missing from the Louvre in Paris.  It was more than two years before it was recovered, again, by Italian police. The thief was one Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian who had worked at the Louvre.  

Peruggia kept the painting in a trunk in his apartment in Paris for two years before moving to Florence. He was caught after he contacted the owner of a Florence art gallery and asked for a reward for returning it to its ‘homeland’. Peruggia always maintained that he was motivated by patriotism, although the fact that he asked for a reward brings that into question.  

He spent a short amount of time in jail and then served in the Italian army during the First World War.  He died on his 44th birthday in 1925. 

  1. Congolese mines

Perhaps not as exciting as an art theft, but one of the biggest thefts of all time occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo less than 10 years ago.  

Between 2010 and 2012, a number of anonymously owned shell companies bought mines from the government for a fraction of their actual value. These mines were then sold for their full price in what must count as one of the most gut-wrenching cases of fraud in history. In total, it is estimated that these companies made close to $1.4billion, which should have gone to the state. In other words, the people of DRC missed the benefit of an amount that was more than twice its annual budget for healthcare and education combined!  

More than seven million children in the DRC do not attend school and only five countries have a higher child mortality rate. To say the money could have made a difference to millions of lives is an understatement.

  1. Hatton Garden

In 2016, a group of seven thieves used an elevator shaft to get to the underground strong room of the Hatton Garden security deposit vault. They then drilled through 50cm of solid concrete to get into the vault, making off with an estimated £200m.  

The heist is remarkable for its audaciousness and the amount stolen but what makes it even more fascinating is the age of the robbers. The gang was led by a 76-year old and the seven men between them had a combined age of 443.  They were all apprehended and jailed although the money has never been recovered.

  1. Isabella Stewart Garden Museum

On 18th March 1990, two thieves entered the Isabella Stewart Garden Museum in Boston and made off with 13 artworks including a Vermeer and a Rembrandt. The combined total value of the pieces stolen was around £500m and they have never been recovered. The crime remains unsolved. 

  1. The Last Judgment

‘The Last Judgment’ was a triptych created by the German painter Hans Memling between 1466 and 1473. As it was being transported to Florence in 1473, it was seized by a group of Polish pirates in what is believed to be the first recorded example of an art heist. It was taken by the pirates to the Polish city of Gdansk where it remains to this day.


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