Ten Daring Art Thefts of the 20th Century

Landscape with Cottages Wikipedia.org
Landscape with Cottages Wikipedia.org

The theft at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972 is the largest theft in Canadian history.  It occurred at 2 am on September 4th 1972 when three armed men entered the museum through the skylight. The museum was undergoing repairs that left the skylight only partially alarmed.  One of the men fired a shot gun twice into the air after one of the security guards refused to immediately get down on the ground. The guard then complied and was bound and gagged. The other two guards were then overpowered and bound as well.

During the 30-minute heist the thieves were able to steal jewelry, figurines and 18 paintings with an overall value of $2 million. Paintings by Delacroix, Gainsborough and Rembrandt alone had a value of $1 million. The museum spokesman at the time states that the thieves knew what they were looking for and knew exactly what to take to get the most value. The thieves intended to take 20 additional paintings but they were left behind after a door alarm was accidentally tripped as they were leaving the museum.

After the theft the museum director received an envelope that had pictures of the stolen art and artifacts and demanded a $250,000 ransom. A phone call directed him to a phone booth where a missing pendant was hidden. Proof of paintings was requested and led to a locker at Montreal’s Central Station where one of the missing paintings was recovered. A meetup was setup to exchange the ransom for the art but the thieves called off the meeting when a neighborhood police car drove past the location. The rest of the missing pieces have never been recovered and no suspects have been arrested.

Today the value of the paintings has only increased with the value of the rare Rembrandt landscape estimated at $20 million.