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The Biggest Art Thefts in (Recent) Los Angeles History

12:21 PM PDT on August 15, 2011

    With the news of the Rembrandt sketch (pictured above) heist in Marina Del Rey, we decided to look back into LA's long history of art theft and pick out some of the biggest and most interesting art crimes in Los Angeles in recent years. The FBI estimates that art theft is a $6-billion-a-year industry, and it's growing fast. Less than 5% of all works stolen are eventually returned to their owners...

    Update: Rembrandt found outside Encino Church.

    West L.A. Warhols Stolen

    In September 2009, noted art collector Richard L. Weisman had 11 Warhols stolen from the walls of his dining room. The works were large portraits of celebrity athletes such as O.J. Simpson, and were commissioned by Weisman in the 1970s. The total value of the heist is up to $11m dollars, and to date police have no significant leads other than a maroon van that may have been spotted in the neighborhood.

    Cooperman Art Theft hoax 1999
    It started as one of LA's biggest art thefts, and ended in the conviction of the alleged victim for insurance fraud. In July 1999, Los Angeles ophthalmologist Steven G. Cooperman was convicted of insurance fraud for arranging the theft of two paintings, a Picasso and a Monet, from his home in an attempt to collect $17.5 million in insurance. The hoax shocked the art world, and Cooperman was sentenced to three years in prison.

    The Butler Did It, But for Whom?

    A topsy-turvy case of divorce, infidelity, faked art, and oil(s), the case of Roy Donnell is worthy of a film or HBO mini-series. The Swedish butler of Bel Air resident oil tycoon Howard Keck was found to have replaced several million-dollar works of art with enlarged photographs, admitted selling the works in Sweden, and yet was acquitted of the crime of stealing and selling the valuable works of art. How? His defense claimed that he was acting as an agent for Keck's wife, Elizabeth, who was in the middle of a protracted divorce from her husband. Elizabeth Keck denied all charges, and later filed a civil suit against her former butler.

    Multi Million Dollar Encino Collection Heist

    In August of 2008, art thieves entered an unlocked door in an Encino home and absconded with 12 million-dollar+ works, including Marc Chagall's "Les Paysans," Diego Rivera's "Mexican Peasant," and Arshile Gorky's "Cubist Still Life." The works have not turned up yet, and the LAPD is still on the hunt for any clues.

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