What to do with a stolen van Gogh masterpiece? This thief knows

AMSTERDAM — The televised security footage clearly showed the man smashing glass doors at the Singer Laren Museum, then walking out moments later with a painting by Vincent van Gogh under his arm. He’s got jeans and Nike sneakers on.” Mr. Durham’s exasperation is not that of some couch potato who has seen one too many crime shows. Video: Security footage shows thief dashing for Van Gogh painting (Reuters) “This is the easiest art heist I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Durham, 47, concluded of the Singer Laren theft, which took place in the early morning hours of March 30. Mr. Durham has been charged several times with thefts and break-ins, including a bank job for which he was acquitted, but he now admits he committed. He has in recent years spoken a good bit about his past, agreeing to participate in a 2017 documentary about his life. Mr. Durham said he first offered the Van Gogh paintings he had stolen to two criminals, but both of them were murdered before the deal could go down. I said, I don’t want to do anything with these paintings.” Ultimately, he and his co-conspirator, Henk Bieslijn, sold the paintings to Mr. Imperiale, who owned an Amsterdam coffee shop and was a leader of the Camorra drug ring in Naples. Meanwhile, Mr. Durham ran from Amsterdam to Spain, where the police arrested him in 2003 in Marbella, a southern resort town. Dutch forensic investigators were able to match DNA from a baseball cap he left behind at the Van Gogh Museum to convict him, but he refused to reveal the location of the paintings. More than a decade later, when Italian police were investigating the Camorra Mafia family, Mr. Imperiale confessed by letter to having the paintings, in apparent hopes of negotiating a more lenient sentence for himself. That number includes 20 paintings that were robbed in 1991 from the museum where she works; they were recovered within a few hours, from an abandoned car. Ursula Weitzel, the lead public prosecutor on art crimes for the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service, said that in general, art is stolen for the same reasons people steal cars. Brand said many thieves think they will be able to sell paintings on the open market, and then quickly find out that there aren’t legal buyers. Brand estimates that a work of art in the criminal underworld is worth about 10 percent of its value in the legitimate art market — so if a painting might sell for million at auction, it can be traded among criminals for a value of about million. Ms. Weitzel, who handles about 10 cases of stolen art a year in Amsterdam alone, said some times, a criminal might hold onto a work in hopes of using it as collateral or a bargaining chip with law enforcement authorities. However, some major museums and art galleries around the world are offering virtual tours to explore their collection. In cases where paintings are worth millions, the chance that the works will finally be returned is significantly improved. “My guess is that people destroy less valuable art because they can’t doanything with it.” The Singer Laren painting, an oil on paper work from 1884, was on loan from the Groninger Museum in the northern Netherlands. Mr. Durham said he would not steal another van Gogh, and described the theft 18 years ago as the act of a younger man.