Tag Archives: thief

30 years after heist, museum hopes to get piece back

An empty wooden frame once occupied by Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre” sits at the center of a gallery at the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art in Tucson. 

Next to it are the composite drawings of two people police say stole the painting the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. The museum wants to remind visitors of the heist in hopes that a new lead in the 30-year unsolved mystery will appear. 

“We have not given up hope about getting the painting back,” Gina Compitello-Moore, the museum’s marketing director, said. “By not having it, it’s almost as if a member of our family is missing.”

The painting by the abstract expressionist was stolen on Nov. 29, 1985 from the small museum that also has works by Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe. 

The museum had just opened when a man and a woman walked in. They were the sole visitors. The woman, described as being in her mid-50s with shoulder-length reddish and blond hair, distracted the a security guard by making small-talk while the man, who appeared to be in his 20s and wore a mustache and glasses, cut the painting from the large frame, leaving the edges of the canvass attached. 

Within minutes, they were gone, taking with them one of the museum’s most important pieces. The painting was valued at about $600,000 when it was stolen. 

“We have no idea why this particular painting was stolen. It could have been the size of the work. It could have been that this is probably his most recognized work,” Compitello-Moore said.

Brian Seastone, the university’s police chief, was an officer back then who helped investigate the heist. He says the department, along with the FBI and other agencies working the theft, received a number of tips that led them nowhere. 

“The gentleman pretty much knew what he wanted, it appeared, and went upstairs. And after a few minutes they both left very quickly and it drew the attention of the security officer who was there,” Seastone said. “Since then, it’s kind of become not a legend but one of those things that’s out there that people will talk about once in a while.” 

Seastone says the man’s mustache and glasses may have been fake, an effort to disguise himself, and that the woman also may have been in costume.

Compitello-Moore said now is a good time to bring attention to the stolen painting because it could have changed hands by now, and its owner could not know they have a stolen piece. 

“We’re happy to have to have the frame in there but we of course wish it were the painting,” she said.

Man arrested in slaying of gay Ugandan activist

Ugandan police said a man has confessed to murdering gay rights activist David Kato after a “personal disagreement.”

Kato was beaten to death with a hammer at his home Jan. 3, less than three months after his photograph was published on the cover of a tabloid under the headline, “Hang Them.” Kato said he received a number of death threats following the publication.

Kato’s death has sparked outcries all over the world, with governments and rights groups criticizing Uganda for its “culture of hate.”

The man police claim confessed to Kato’s killing is Nsubuga Enock, whom police described as a “well-known thief.” He had been staying with Kato after the activist bailed him out of prison on January 24.

“He has confessed to the murder,” a police spokesman told the Reuters news service. “It wasn’t a robbery and it wasn’t because Kato was an activist. It was a personal disagreement but I can’t say more than that”

Kato’s driver was also arrested in connection with the murder. Police spokespeople could not confirm whether he had since been released.

But gay rights activists told Reuters they feared police would try to cover up a motive of homophobia in order to protect the Western aid upon which the country relies. They said they wanted proof from police that Kato was not killed over his sexuality.

Many human rights activists have said the American anti-gay evangelical group known as “The Family” is complicit in Kato’s killing. The Family’s membership includes a number of right-wing U.S. congressional leaders. A member of The Family proposed a law in Uganda last year that would imprison gays or put them to death.

Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries, so few people on the continent are openly gay due to fear of imprisonment, violence and loss of work.