Culture crime news 13–19 July 2015


Hot this week: Confusion over antiquities ‘returned’ to Iraq

Back from Nepal so no further Culture Crime News delays for the time being. Please let me know if I have missed any topical stories in any language.

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Art dealer’s ‘ambulance chasers’ Holocaust restitution jibe criticised (General)
(15 July 2015; The Jewish Chronicle)
I am sure no one is surprised that those comments aren’t playing well.

Missing ‘Vampire’ Director’s Skull: Why People Snatch Bodies (General)
(17 July 2015; Live Science)
There are a lot of reasons, only some of them ‘collecting’ related.

The skull robbers: how celebrity culture lost its head (General)
(17 July 2015; The Guardian)
On celebrity skull snatching


Inside the turbulent world of Barry Clifford, a pirate-ship hunter under attack (Madagascar)
(16 July 2015; The Washington Post)
Is Barry Clifford a looter or is he a “private-sector archaeologist” (…sure, and I am a private sector brain surgeon). Either way he claims UNESCO is out to get him.


Nuevamente roban en una capilla (Chapel robbed again; Argentina)
(13 July 2015; Diario El Comercial)
Very few details. Images of the Virgin and other items were stolen from the church of San Pio X in Formosa.

Opinion: Return the Manitou Stone to its rightful owners (Canada)
(15 July 2015; Edmonton Journal)
The sacred meteorite was taken from First Nations in Alberta 150 years ago as part of forced conversion.

Sin miedo asegura obispo de Cuernavaca por el robo de arte sacro (Bishop of Cuernavaca doesn’t fear the investigation for robbery of sacred art; Mexico)
(13 July 2015; El Sol de Puebla)
Bishop of Cuernavaca says he does not fear sacred art theft investigation following allegations of wrong doing because he claims no art has been stolen.

Imprimir Enviar Recomienda INAH denunciar saqueo de fósiles (INAH recommends the reporting of fossil looting; Mexico)
(15 July 2015; El Diario de Coahuila)
The INAH is encouraging the public to bring them reports of fossil looting as they want to pursue such cases.

Bringing life to Peru’s ancient mummies (Peru)
(17 July 2015; CNN)
Lorry Salcedo’s beautiful and haunting photos of Peruvian mummies at risk of theft and destruction

Congressional House Chairman Bishop Calls Native American Artifacts “Bull Crap – Not an Antiquity” (USA)
(13 July 2015; Native News Online)
Oh boy. This guy in charge of anything is a threat to heritage if I’ve ever seen one. For shame.

Man who transported stolen Wyeth paintings to be sentenced (USA)
(13 July 2015; Bangor Daily News)
The man pled guilty for transporting the 4 works from new Hampshire to California where they were sold to a pawn shop for $100k. A 5th Wyeth painting stolen from the same owner is still missing.

Records detail arrests, pursuit of N.C. Wyeth art stolen in Maine (USA)
(16 July 2015; Portland Press Herald)
More on the cross country investigation into the transport and sale of several stolen Wyeths.

Ex-Harrisburg mayor accused of corruption (USA)
(14 July 2015; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Stephen Reed is accused of diverting public money to buy thousands of artefacts for a museums that were not built and that he kept in his personal offices.

Serpent Mound vandal’s punishment: Research paper? (USA)
(15 July 2015;
The man who took a joy ride over a burial mound at Serpent Mound will have to pay a fine and produce a research paper on the site’s history.

Filmmaker Joe Gibbons Gets a Year in Prison for a Robbery He Called Performance Art (USA)
(13 July 2015; The New York Times)
You can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre and call it art.

Art World Defends Bank Robber ‘Performer’ (USA)
(17 July 2015; Observer)
More on the performance art bank robberies of Joe Gibbons. He has been convicted for these thefts.


Pläne der Bundesregierung: Scharfe Sanktionen beim Kunsthandel (Federal government plans tough sanctions against art trading; Germany)
(3 July 2015; Spiegel Online)
The new regulation is slated to take a big swipe at the illicit antiquities trade. The market hates it.

Why Baselitz could be the first of many artists to ‘bloodlet’ Germany’s museums (Germany)
(14 July 2015; DW)
Focused on the art market losing money over draft German legislation that essentially classes art and antiquities as culturally valuable over financially valuable. Let’s talk about its potential to clean up the illicit market.

Baselitz removes art from Dresden gallery (Germany)
(17 July 2015; DW)
Seemingly willful effort on the part of the art market to publicly misunderstand the purpose and focus of a new German law that would cut down on illicit antiquities trafficking.

The skull of famed horror film director is stolen (Germany)
(15 July 2015; The Washington Post)
This isn’t the first time that Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau’s tomb has been broken into.

Theft threatens the future of Britain’s historic churches (UK)
(9 July 2015; Apollo)
“The reality is that church buildings are inherently vulnerable.”

Elderly man, 73, left ‘devastated’ by theft of World War Two Jeep from Imperial War Museum, Duxford (UK)
(15 July 2015; Cambridge News)
The Jeep isn’t property of the museum but was parked there for an event when it was stolen.

Meeting to tackle heritage crime at Bexhill Museum (UK)
(16 July 2015; Bexhill-on-sea Observer)
Metal detectorists, police, and antiquities experts met to discuss heritage crime in Sussex.

Cheshire places of worship have almost 300 items stolen from them in three years (UK)
(16 July 2015; The Chester Chronicle)
Mostly lead is stolen from Chester’s churches, but so are musical instruments and religious artefacts.

“When they are destroyed they are gone permanently”: Museum asks detectorists not to melt Civil War musket and cannon balls (UK)
(16 July 2015; Culture 24)
Please don’t sell artefacts as lead scrap. Please.

Race to save priceless artefacts from the sunken HMS Victory after looters target its two nearest wrecks in the English Channel (UK)
(17 July 2015; The Daily Mail)
A warning from archaeologists that wrecks near the HMS Victory have been looted and she might be looted as well…


Sotheby’s sued over John Olsen artworks (Australia)
(15 July 2015; The Australian)
The auction house was explicitly told they did not have permission to publish 4 Olsen works and did anyway.

South and East Asia

Cambodia Creates ‘Border Pass’ for Workers in Thailand (Cambodia)
(12 July 2015; Khmer Times)
Cultural diplomacy: an agreement to prevent antiquities trafficking at the border comes with an agreement for a ‘border pass’ for workers on each side.

Two stolen Panchaloha idols worth Rs 1 cr found (India)
(13 July 2015; Business Standard)
The idols, stolen from a temple at Anupanadi, were found lying on a road near Avanipuram after a series of police tip offs.

मंदिर से चुराया घंटा, आरोपी गिरफ्तार (Gong stolen from temple, suspect arrested; India)
(13 July 2015; Navbharat Times)
A gong was stolen from Nandeswar temple in Nandgram, however it has been recovered and a suspect arrested.

Ancient Idol of Lord Nataraja Stolen From Temple in Tamil Nadu (India)
(14 July 2015; NDTV)
The Nataraja was taken from the 1400-year-old Korukkai Veera Teswarar temple near Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu

Germany to gift stolen durga idol back to PM Modi (India)
(14 July 2015; India Today)
The piece was sold by Subhash Kapoor. The latest in a string of Kapoor pieces to be returned.

Is BSU museum piece stolen art? (India)
(14 July 2015; The Star Press)
The idol of Shiva and Parvati in the David Owsley Museum of Art was bought 10 years ago from Subhash Kapoor. The museum anticipates they will be returning more Kapoor pieces.

Sacred Indian art is seen more as “Art” than as “Sacred” in the art market: Dr. Donna Yates (India)
(14 July 2015; NewsGram)
An interview with…me.

प्राचीन जैन मंदिर से दानपेटी व छत्र चोरी (Ancient Jain temple donation box, parasol theft; India)
(17 July 2015; Naidunia)
A metal parasol was stolen from the ancient Jain temple in Chaupra Village

भदौरा के महामाया मंदिर में चोरों का धावा (Mahamaya temple theft; India)
(18 July 2015; Naidunia)
A crown was taken off the idol at the Mahamaya temple in Bhadaura. A parasol and other items were taken as well.

వెంకటేశ్వర స్వామి ఆలయంలో చోరీ (Theft in Venkateshwara Swamy Temple; India)
(18 July 2015; Namasthe Telangaana)
Four statues were taken from the temple in Karimnagar.

‘Criminology tools can curb illicit trade in artefacts’ (Nepal)
(16 July 2015; The Himalayan)
An overview of a talk on the theft of sacred art that I gave in Kathmandu.

S. Korea to return stolen Buddha statue to Japan (South Korea)
(15 July 2015; The Asahi Shimbun)
An interesting result in a tough case. The statues are Korean but were stolen from Japan by Koreans. In other words South Korea is returning a Korean item to Japan.

Stolen statue returned: Government must actively seek return of looted artifacts (South Korea)
(17 July 2015; The Korea Herald)
Opinion piece that argues that since Japan is vocal about the return of two Korean pieces stolen from Japan (yes, typed that right), South Korea should be vocal about the return of looted Korean items in Japan.

Polonnaruwa museum is exposed to theft due to malfunction of main door (Sri Lanka)
(17 July 2015; Hiru News)
The museum’s automatic door is being held shut by a log. This is disturbing in light of other thefts from Sri Lanka’s museums.

West and Central Asia

U.S. delivers Iraqi antiquities seized in raid on Islamic State (Iraq)
(15 July 2015; Reuters)
Where the US Ambassador to Iraq says there has been no tangible evidence for IS selling antiquities.

Police arrest Jewish suspects in arson at `loaves and fishes’ church (Israel)
(12 July 2015; The Times of Israel)
Identities of those arrested have been kept secret but they are assumed to be right-wing extremists.

Thief returns stolen Roman ballista stones (Israel)
(13 July 2015; The Times of Israel)
They were left on the Beersheba museum’s doorstep with a note saying that the person stole them in 1995 and they brought nothing but trouble.

Syria civil war: Bomb damages Aleppo’s ancient citadel (Syria)
(12 July 2015; BBC News)
Part of the wall of this 13th century structure was damaged by either rebel or government forces.

Turkish manuscripts returned from US (Turkey)
(14 July 2015; Hurriyet Daily News)
Utrecht University PhD student Hüseyin Şen discovered the two manuscripts which were stolen from the Yusuf Ağa Manuscript Library in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania while researching birdhouses for his wife.

US Law Firm Files Lawsuit to Return Armenian Property in Incirlik Turkey (Turkey)
(14 July 2015; Massis Post)
These are properties confiscated in 1915. The article also mentions that a case against the Getty for illuminated manuscript pages is in negotiations.

In Other News

The lost Gerald Ford portrait: An art mystery (USA)
(15 July 2015; Yahoo News)
How did Gerald Ford end up in this family’s closet?

Entire SPECIES Found Piled In Shipping Crate (Philippines)
(11 July 2015; The Dodo)
More Philippine forest turtles than were thought to exist were recovered from smugglers.