Culture crime news 3–9 August 2015


Hot this week: Gardner Museum, Gardner Museum, Gardner Museum

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John Henry Merryman: Art Law Pioneer and Much-Loved Colleague (General)
(5 August 2015; Stanford Law School)
The renowned Art Law scholar has died at age 95.

Charles Goldstein Dies at 78; Sought Return of Art Looted by Nazis
(5 August 2015; The New York Times)
Goldstein, of Herrick Feinstein, was council to the Commission for Art Recovery.

Remembering Barbara Mertz
(6 August 2015; Huffington Post)
Dr Mertz was an Egyptologist, a best-selling author, and an advocate against the trafficking of Egyptian antiquities.

The antiquities thief who became one of Britain’s richest men
(2 August 2015; Haaretz)
An obituary for Shlomo Moussaieff. “They hated me, calling me an antiquities thief. But what do all the museums in the world contain? Artifacts they find themselves?”


Egypt foils smuggling of 761 law books (Egypt)
(4 August 2015; Ahram Online)
The books appear to have been taken from the Lawyers Syndicate and were on their way to Kuwait.

Egypt repatriates 35,000-year-old skeleton from Belgium (Egypt)
(4 August 2015; The Cairo Post)
Nazlet Khater man, a Paleolithic skeleton held in Belgium since 1980, was returned as it left the country before a 1983 law that would have allowed Leuven University to perhaps keep it.


Bolivia necesita una campaña agresiva de defensa patrimonial (Bolivia needs an aggressive campaign to protect heritage; Bolivia)
(4 August 2015; Los Tiempos)
In light of recent historic church thefts, Minister of Culture Marko Machicao Bankovic says that teams are investigating.

Cierran el caso de robo a Virgen de Copacabana (Virgin of Copacabana Robbery Case Closed; Bolivia)
(4 August 2015; La Prensa)
Because no evidence has been found against the only suspects. The 18 items stolen from Bolivia’s most holy site have not been recovered.

Mounties investigating after Black Diamond artist’s paintings pinched from auction (Canada)
(8 August 2015; Calgary Sunn)
Two of artist Maryanne Jesperson’s paintings were stolen from a show in Calgary.

Imprimir Enviar Fiebre del oro destruye aldea de 2.300 años en Puerto Jiménez (Gold fever destroys 2300 years old site in Puerto Jiménez; Costa Rica)
(9 August 2015; La Nación)
Oreros as Huaqueros. Accusations that gold panners have found, looted, and destroyed archaeological sites in Puerto Jimenez de Golfito, Puntarenas.

Roban artículos religiosos del Templo de San Agustín en Yuriria (Religious items stolen from the Templo de San Agustín in Yuriria; Mexico)
(2 August 2015; AM)
A chalice, a ciborium and other items were taken from this historic church which is currently being restored.

Templos en ruinas y saqueados (Plundered and ruined temples; Mexico)
(3 August 2015; Diario Xalapa)
Lamenting the poor preservation status of and theft from historic churches in Coacoatzintla, Veracruz.

Marginan a la mayoría de zonas arqueológicas (Most archaeological sites marginalised; Mexico)
(6 August 2015; Informador)
The archaeological sites of Jalisco lack federal funding, tourism support, and are being looted

Llena de irregularidades restauración de templo en Pánuco (Restoration of the temple in Pánuco full of irregularities; Mexico)
(6 August 2015; NTR Zacatecas)
Inhabitents of Pánuco say that the INAH is not taking precautions to protect sacred art during restoration to the historic Temple of San Juan Bautista. They also fear that objects will be stolen.

Cura robó imagen de oro, acusan (Priest accused of stealing golden sacred image; Mexico)
(6 August 2015; El Sol de Orizaba)
Residents of Tehuipango, Veracruz have accused a priest of stealing a gold sacred image. The Church claims the patron saint isn’t stolen, just removed so it can be copied…and that it isn’t made of gold.

A most brilliant art world con: A near-perfect scheme, barely unraveled, straight from Hollywood (USA)
(2 August 2015; Salon)
An excerpt from Amore’s new book.

NY judge rejects extradition to Poland of Russian art dealer accused of having Nazi-stolen art (USA)
(3 August 2015; Star Tribune)
A US District Court judge determined that Poland lacks probable cause to have dealer Alexander Khochinskiy extradited for selling a painting taken from a Polish museum during WWII.

Thief steals plaque memorializing 1944 plane crash that Merriam historian worked decades to have installed (USA)
(3 August 2015; Prairie Village Post)
This sort of metal theft really hits communities hard: people work for commemoration and then, gone.

Returning the Ancient One (USA)
(4 August 2015; Indian Country Today)
The case for returning Kennewick Man.

Sen. Patty Murray Introduces Bill to Return Kennewick Man to Columbia Basin Tribes (USA)
(6 August 2015; NBC Right Now)
The 20 year saga of Kennewick man continues with the ‘S. 1979, the Bring the Ancient One Home Act of 2015’.

Newhouse says Kennewick Man should be returned to tribes (USA)
(8 August 2015; Yakima Herald)
A republican US Representative adding to democrat senator Patty Murry’s call for return.

Who flipped off security cam and then stole historic gun, tomahawk? (USA)
(4 August 2015; KBOI2)
The man made an obscene gesture at a security camera then stole a gun and a tomahawk from the Old Idaho Penitentiary Site museum.

UPDATE: Stolen Artifacts Left at Twin Falls Police Department (USA)
(5 August 2015;
The stolen items were left at the police department. Result!

Men Get Jail Term For Digging Up Civil War Artifacts (USA)
(5 August 2015; WDEF)
The Tennessee man was given 30 months in federal prison for digging up shells on federal land at Fort McCook at Battle Creek and at Shiloh National Military Park.

Relic hunters vital but troublesome for Civil War history (USA)
(6 August 2015; Times Free Press)
The difficult balance between enthusiasts, armchair historians, and preservation when it comes to battlefield sites.

State rep calls for allowance of physical inspection of Nazi-stolen painting (USA)
(5 August 2015; The Oklahoma Daily)
Is there a Nazi stamp on the back?! The continued fight over a Pissarro in Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum at the University of Oklahoma considered to be Nazi-looted art…again.

OU Responds To State Lawmaker’s Allegations Of Stolen Art (USA)
(8 August 2015; News9)
Oklahoma University continues to state that statements that their Pissarro is Nazi-looted are misleading.

This Buried Treasure Could Be Yours: Mel Fisher’s Amazing Shipwreck Finds (USA)
(5 August 2015; The Daily Beast)
Fisher has died and his ‘salvage’ loot is going on the block. A sad reminder about the inadequacies of the law of the sea and what we all lose because of people like him. This is looting.

Jackson County man pleads guilty to buying stolen Native American remains (USA)
(5 August 2015; The Columbus Dispatch)
Mark M. Beatty bought the remains of 8 people as well as artefacts from an Ohio farm. He was prosecuted under NAGPRA. He gets…three years of probation, including three months of house arrest; a $3,500 fine; and $1,000 in restitution. So pretty much nothing.

Portland Art Museum returning sacred Crow medicine bundles to tribe (USA)
(5 August 2015; The Oregonian)
They were taken from Montana’s Crow reservation and sold by dealers between 1970 and 1990 then donated to the museum in 2004.

Missouri professor, researcher accused of removing artifacts (USA)
(6 August 2015; Chron)
University of Missouri Archaeologist R. Lee Lyman has been charged with removing artefacts from Umatilla National Forest without a permit as is a doctoral candidate and a researcher affiliated with Southern Methodist University.

MU professor, researcher charged with illegally taking artifacts (USA)
(5 August 2015; Columbia Daily Tribute)
More on this story. I am so angry at these people I could spit. They make us all look bad.

‘Summer Streets’ Art Swiped, Again (USA)
(6 August 2015; The Wall Street Journal)
Portable public art is, of course, being stolen. These signs are being taken from Manhattan street poles despite all efforts.

New Gardner museum video may show thieves 24 hours before art heist (USA)
(6 August 2015; The Guardian)
“New” it isn’t; it is unclear why this video wasn’t released 25 years ago when someone could have made an ID. The man in it appears too old to be alive now.

Video suggests a dry run of Gardner theft (USA)
(6 August 2015; The Boston Globe)
More on this story, which puts a lot of heat on the guards.

Gardner guard never made secret of events (USA)
(7 August 2015; The Boston Globe)
A look at the guard associated with the Gardner Museum theft, in light of the ‘new’ video

FBI: Suspects in $500 M. Gardner Museum Theft Are Dead (USA)
(7 August 2015; ArtNews)
After 25 years, that isn’t surprising. The whole Gardner everything is weird and a mess.

Quincy police make arrest in burglary at History Museum (she was taking plates and a cup.; USA)
(6 August 2015; WGEM)
A woman was arrested inside the History Museum

Brooklyn street artist sues over Katy Perry’s graffitied Met gala gown (USA)
(6 August 2015; The Art Newspaper)
Artist Josephy Tierney is suing the creators of Perry’s dress saying it was copied from his commissioned 2012 Detroit mural Vandal Eyes

Senate Bill Hopes To Stop Looted Syrian Artifacts From Reaching The U.S. (USA)
(7 August 2015; BuzzFeed)
Bob Casey is talking about creating a chilling effect and really equating antiquities buying with ‘terrorism’. Great, but I am not seeing how this bill will do that.

Dixon Ticonderoga uses museum to highlight stolen paintings (USA)
(7 August 2015; Orlando Sentinel)
Rockwell painted 3 paintings with the Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil in them. All three were stolen, one was recovered, two are still missing. The company is hoping that a new museum will prompt their return.

How A Candy Magnate Helped Bring A Holy Collection Home (USA)
(8 August 2015; NPR)
Forrest Mars Jr got Mars to invest $16 million for a new building for the Brinton Museum in Montana and a major sacred collection was purchased to go there which is being curated and exhibited with a Native American advisory council.


Would the real Manneken Pis please stand up? (Belgium)
(5 August 2015; The Telegraph)
Researchers are doing tests to see if this famous statue was replaced with a fake in the 19th century (with the original in the Brussels Museum).

Court: National Gallery must return Madonna painting (Czech Republic)
(7 August 2015; Prague Post)
The 14th century Madonna of Veveri, which was confiscated under the communist regime, will be returned to the Catholic Church.

Bernini bust at Getty Museum prompts criminal complaint in Slovakia (Slovakia)
(3 August 2015; Los Angeles Times)
Slovakia isn’t saying the Getty did anything wrong, rather they are investigating why the bust was severely under valued in Slovakia so that it was allowed to leave that country. It was sold for only €24k Euro in 2014. The Getty bought it for $33mil.

€25m Picasso and superyacht collide with Spanish export ban (Spain)
(4 August 2015; The Guardian)
The painting, declared a national treasure, was barred from leaving Spain but was seized on a yacht docked in Corsica. The yacht may have been purchased specifically to smuggle the painting.

Un botín eclesiástico (An ecclesiastical booty; Spain)
(9 August 2015; Levante)
A Moroccan man was caught stealing two gold host containers from Natalicia Casa de San Vicente Ferrer

Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst dealers investigated as buyers left with nothing (UK)
(2 August 2015; The Independent)
Donald Smith and Emma Poole of Opus Art gallery in Stow-on-the-Wold have allegedly run up debts, sold art that was never delivered, and fled to France with other people’s art in tow.

Vandalised ancient boundary stone in Inverness is restored (UK)
(4 August 2015; BBC News)
The older-than-the-16th-century stone had been smashed and thrown into water.

Ramsgate Maritime Museum reopens after burglary damage (UK)
(5 August 2015; Kent Online)
Thanks to the help of volunteers the museum was able to open after cash and artefacts valued at £10k were stolen last week.

Vandal carves initials into ancient Ring of Brodgar standing stones (UK)
(7 August 2015; STV)
They did so inched from Viking graffiti. This is infuriating.

Outrage at desecration of St Columba’s grave on Iona (UK)
(7 August 2015; Express)
Would-be grave robbers forced open the wood floor hatch that covers the saint’s burial site during a 15 minute window but there were no visible remains to steal.

Glasgow to pay compensation to family whose Burrell Collection art was lost to Nazis (UK)
(8 August 2015; Herald News)
The city will pay heirs for a tapestry that was subject to a Nazi forced sale in exchange for the family of Emma Budge relinquishing of the claim to the piece.

Call the special branch! Riddle as £15k ‘Snake Stick’ goes on sale – 40 years after disappearing from Lake District (UK)
(9 August 2015; The Daily Mail)
The artwork by Kurt Schwitters was taken from a barn in the Lake District and turned up with a man trying to sell it at Bonhams.

A Museum Survives in Crimea (Ukraine)
(3 August 2015; The New Yorker)
The continued Russia v. Church drama at Chersonesus

South and East Asia

Ancient treasures in the backyard (Cambodia)
(8 August 2015; The Phnom Penh Post)
Subsistence level looting as a cottage industry for poor Cambodians

China Focus: Tomb raiders put Chinese history in grave danger (China)
(2 August 2015; Xinhua)
Lots of arrests, but serious understaffing for looting prevention and other security measures.

Theft in Shri Tirumala Laxmi Venkatraman Temple Vandse (India)
(2 August 2015; See And Say)
Thieves stole a face, bell, and 4 flags, all made of silver, from Laxmi Venkatraman temple on Kundapur-Kollur highway in Vandse.

8 theft cases of antiquities reported: Government (India)
(3 August 2015; The Economic Times)
This is from centrally-protected museums and monuments over the span of a year.

India struggles to halt multimillion dollar trade in stolen artworks (India)
(3 August 2015; The Guardian)
Some of the reasons it is so hard to halt sacred art theft in India (with quotes from me!)

Antique idol stolen from Anandawalleshwaram temple (India)
(3 August 2015; The Hindu)
A panchaloha Krishna was taken from the Anandawalleshwaram Sree Mahadevar temple in Kerala. The idol was over 400 years old.

Temple pond emptied in bid to trace antique idol (India)
(4 August 2015; The Hindu)
The pond of the Anandawalleshwaram temple in Kollam was drained in hope of finding an idol that was stolen this weekend. Water bodies are suspected because of the results of a devaprashnam, or divining ritual.

Man Held for Multiple Theft (India)
(5 August 2015; The New Indian Express)
The man was arrested for carrying out thefts in more than 30 temples and churches. Mostly of money but also of gold ornaments and other sacred items.

Museum theft: More than meets the eye (India)
(6 August 2015; The Shillong Times)
A general audit found many items missing from the Williamson Sangma Museum in Shillong.

Man arrested with 2 ‘ashtadhatu’ idols worth Rs 1.5 crore (India)
(8 August 2015; Mid-day)
The idols were stolen from Gosai Purwa in Visheshwarganj last month and the accused was planning to smuggle them to Nepal

Extradition hitch keeps Kullu temple theft accused in Nepal (Nepal)
(4 August 2015; The Tribune)
Even though the December 2014 theft was solved in January 2015, and even though there was a lot of publicity over the two police forces collaborating, with no extradition treaty the accused idol thief is still in Nepal.

Large number of artifacts smuggled to US, EU: Pervaiz (Pakistan)
(7 August 2015; The Nation)
Not a surprise, but good to hear the Federal Minister for Information and National Heritage saying this very publically.

Protecting The Past (Pakistan)
(8 August 2015; The Nation)
A call for instilling pride in Pakistanis about their ancient monuments in hopes of protecting them from looting.

West and Central Asia

Monuments Woman (Iraq)
(4 August 2015; TCT Magazine)
Profile of artist Morehshin Allahyari who is using 3D printing to recreate artefacts that have been destroyed or are at risk.

Israeli Media: Leader of Far-Right Lehava Group Admits Support for Destroying Churches (Israel)
(6 August 2015; Newsweek)
“Idolatry needs to be destroyed.” Benzion Gopshtein later said he was not calling for individuals to take matters into their own hands, rather it should be the responsibility of the government.

Palestinian artist’s work to go on display in London after Channel 4’s Jon Snow smuggles it out of Gaza (Palestine)
(31 July 2015; The Independent)
Snow didn’t have a permit to take 399 pieces of Majdal Nateel’s work out of Gaza for a London show…but did. Nateel was not able to leave, however.

Inside the Underground Trade to Sell Off Syria’s History (Syria)
(30 July 2015; BuzzFeed)
The big must read. Very careful reporting and significant work.

Exclusive Video Shows Illicit Archaeological Dig In ISIS Stronghold (Syria)
(3 August 2015; BuzzFeed)
The videos from the larger BuzzFeed article

World 13 Exclusive Photos Of Looted (And Fake) Syrian Artifacts For Sale (Syria)
(5 August 2015; BuzzFeed)
Photos of antiquities and fakes from a middleman’s mobile with comments from top archaeologists. More from the BuzzFeed article.

The Bizarre Tale of ‘ISIS Book Club’ (Syria)
(4 August 2015; Atlas Obscura)
Featuring Sam Hardy’s ‘super-long shot’ call to ID archaeology books seized from ISIS from a photo alone and how folks are ‘really’ studying Iraq/Syria looting at the moment: mostly from afar.

These Academics Are Outracing (and Outwitting) ISIS (Syria)
(7 August 2015; Smithsonian)
I am not sure any of the academics involved would say either ‘outracing’ or ‘outwitting’ (correct me if I’m wrong, y’all), but it is a composite article made of other articles.

In Other News

Brazil Would Like Its Four Legged Snake Fossil Back (Brazil)
(4 August 2015; Gizmodo)
The now-famous Tetrapodophis amplectus, which Science happily published, seems to have left Brazil illegally and was borrowed from a German private collection.

Four-legged snake fossil sparks legal investigation (Brazil)
(4 August 2015; Nature)
More on this story, Brazil’s laws on this are solid and date to 1942. No govt permission, the walking snake is stolen and illicit. The quotes from the scientist involved are horrific. He’s not above the law, but he sure thinks he is.

Chinese police find stolen dinosaur skeleton and 213 fossilised eggs hidden in village house (China)
(6 August 2015; South China Morning Post)
The fossils were reportedly unearthed at a construction site in Heyuan but not reported to authorities.

Racy temple dancers surrender (Thailand)
(8 August 2015; Bangkok Post)
The women, who filmed themselves ‘red dresses gyrating to music’ inside the temple of Wat Chaiwatthanaram are charged with a violation of the Ancient Monuments act for insulting religion and/or culture.

If even Ai Weiwei can’t trust the UK’s visa system, who can? (UK)
(3 August 2015; The Guardian)
The UK’s visa denial letter accused Ai of having not declared a conviction in China which they stated was a matter of public record. Ai has never been charged or convicted of a crime. Yes, UK immigration really is this terrible/broken.

Letter box larceny: curious crimes bedevil Great Britain (UK)
(3 August 2015; The China Post)
With about 100 letter boxes stolen every year, the Royal Mail is turning to electronic tracking and other tools.

Stolen Stradivarius violin is recovered after 35 years (USA)
(6 August 2015; Associated Press)
Stolen in 1980, the Ames Stradivarius surfaced when a woman had it appraised in New York City. The appraiser called the police but the woman is not accused of any wrong doing.