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1972: Art heist at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The Story

It's the largest theft in Canadian history. Around 2 a.m. on Sept. 4, 1972, armed thieves use the skylight to enter the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The three masked men bind and gag three museum guards and flee with jewellery, figurines and 18 paintings worth a total of $2 million. Among the stolen booty are paintings by Delacroix, Gainsborough and a rare Rembrandt landscape estimated at $1 million. "They were discriminating thieves and had a fairly good idea of what they were looking for," says museum spokesman Bill Bantey.

Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Sept. 4, 1972
Announcer: Bruce Smith
Reporter: Dan Phelan
Duration: 2:24
Photo: Rembrandt Van Rijn's Landscape with Cottages, courtesy the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Did You know?

• The three armed thieves used a ladder propped against a back wall of the museum to enter through the skylight which was only partially alarmed due to repairs.

• Some 20 more paintings were left behind after the thieves accidentally set off a door alarm while leaving the museum.

• Despite calling in the international police agency, Interpol, to help track down the thieves, the stolen art was never recovered. According to a 2003 Globe and Mail article, the Rembrandt alone, then estimated at $1 million, would be worth 20 times its original amount.

• According to Interpol, only drug and weapons trafficking surpasses art theft as a criminal enterprise. It is estimated that more than $8.5 billion worth of fine art is stolen every year.

• Currently (2005) on the international scene, some missing works include 250 works by Marc Chagall, 271 Mirós and 355 Picassos. Interpol estimates that only one in five stolen artworks is ever recovered.

• Boston's Gardner Museum was the victim of the biggest art heist in history when thieves snatched 13 paintings from its galleries in 1991. Notably among the plunder were three Rembrandts, including the Dutch master's only seascape. The stolen artworks, collectively worth $300 million, have never been recovered.


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