The hunt for Calgary's $500K art heist: Suspect caught, art still missing

The suspect in a $500,000 art heist pleaded guilty on Tuesday — but the stolen pieces have not been recovered.

Suspect pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of break and enter with intent

Artwork stolen from the Gerry Thomas Art Gallery. The suspect has since pleaded guilty, but the pieces have not been recovered. (Submitted by Calgary Police Service)

The suspect in a $500,000 art heist pleaded guilty on Tuesday — but the stolen pieces have not been recovered. 

Around 60 pieces were stolen from the Gerry Thomas Art Gallery during the May 2018 heist that involved various suspects.

Police say the crew cut their way into the gallery with a reciprocating saw and spent the next seven hours lifting art from the location. 

"It was like some kind of Ocean's 11 heist," said Michell Kruger, then-manager of the gallery.

"I was one of the first people there, after the police, and you could see the scrape marks where they had been wrapping the paintings and moving them."

Shawn Graham Briscoe, 39, was charged on Dec. 23, 2019 with one count of break and enter with intent. 

Briscoe is back in court on July 20 to set a sentencing date. 

Police said additional suspects have not been identified. 

'Altered the course of my life'

Artist Ted Knudtson had his sculpture taken in the heist.

He was at the beginning of his art career, and his plan was to sell the sculpture for $5,000 and set up a studio that would allow him to continue working in the industry.

"[The heist] altered the course of my life because afterwards, I got away from the art world and had to go back to work in graphic design," Knudtson said.

The sculpture had opened doors for Knudtson. It took more than 400 hours to make, but it was featured in two international art magazines.

"That piece was created after a period of significant loss in my life," Knudtson said. "And it became a symbol of my rebirth at the time. I thought my rebirth would involve an art career."

Ted Knudtson's sculpture The Courage to Fail was one of the pieces stolen in the 2018 heist. (Submitted by Calgary Police Service)

Knudtson's piece was insured by the gallery, but he has not received a payout from the gallery or the insurance company.

He hopes to be reunited with his piece soon.

As for Briscoe's sentencing, Knudtson said he believes a lighter sentence should be given only if the accused makes an "honest and sincere attempt to make things right for the people affected."

'It's just like somebody stole your child'

Kruger lost 11 pieces in the art heist. She also lost some of her father's art that was also on display. 

Her father is a renowned artist who can't paint anymore, as he's gone blind. 

"Besides the huge loss of losing a whole show, just the thought of him losing what can't be replaced," she said. 

"It's hard to explain. It's like somebody stole your child."

Kruger hopes her art hasn't been destroyed. 

"I hope someone is out there enjoying it, as weird as it sounds," she said. "Because the thought of that being destroyed is heartbreaking." 

Some of the artwork stolen from the Gerry Thomas Art Gallery in Calgary. (Submitted by Calgary Police Service)

Kruger's pieces were also insured through the gallery. 

"The whole getting paid for it from insurance is very difficult," she said. "It's a very long process … and you pretty much know you're not going to get what you would get if you were having a show." 

The heist hasn't deterred Kruger from making art or putting it on display. 

"Your audience, the people who are going to purchase it or interact with the pieces themselves, it's just an experience that makes it all worthwhile," she said. 

Calgary police ask anyone with information about the whereabouts of the stolen art to contact police by calling 403-266-1234, or by contacting Crime Stoppers.


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