Introduction: The Art Theft Of The Century
In November 1995, inspector John Butler headed to court to testify against four men accused of stealing Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” one of the world’s most valuable and well-known paintings. The would-be thieves had been pinched by a joint sting operation between Norwegian police and Scotland Yard.
Night of the Heist (03:08)
Munch’s iconic, expressionist painting was stolen from Oslo, Norway’s National Gallery on Feb. 12, 1994. The crime occurred on the same day as the opening of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Security footage caught two perpetrators in the act.
Initial Suspects (02:43)
Jens Kristian Thune spearheaded the National Gallery’s investigation. Anti-abortion activists were suspected of stealing the painting since they had announced plans for a stunt during the Olympics. On March 15, a well-known Norwegian lawyer delivered a ransom demand for the stolen image.
Lead Suspect (02:36)
Pal Enger was suspected of being the mastermind behind the crime. Video footage had captured him visiting the gallery several times prior to the theft with fellow suspect William Asheim. Enger had stolen another Munch painting, “The Vampire,” when he was 21.
Painting Background (02:36)
Munch may not have planned “The Scream” as a finished work from the start. Its pastels are delicate, it bears damage from candle wax, and someone has written “this must have been painted by a madman” in pencil. The work’s fragility made its speedy recovery more urgent.
Search for Leads (05:08)
Police in London and Oslo put out word through their networks of underworld contacts that there was interest in buying the painting back. Chief Inspector Leif A. Lier approached ex-con Jan Olsen who, in turn, contacted art dealer Einar-Tore Ulving.
Contact With Thieves (04:06)
Oslo journalist Gunnar Hultgreen received a tip on April 26, 1994. He picked up National Gallery restorer Leif Plahter and drove to a location outside city limits where the two found part of the painting’s frame. Negotiations began for the work’s return.
Sting Operation (08:43)
An undercover team from New Scotland Yard headed to Oslo. An agent, using the alias Chris Robinson, posed as a buyer from the Paul Getty Museum in California, but a police conference at the hotel where he was staying complicated the operation.
Tense Negotiations (06:00)
Ulving, Olsen and “Robinson” went to another location to discuss terms. Robinson became nervous when Enger associate Bjorn Grytdal joined them in a parked car. Grytdal retrieved the painting but became suspicious that he was being set up.
First Arrest (04:44)
Butler and his team decided to make a final bid to flush out the painting. Grytdal called a crisis meeting to force the deal through, during which arrangement were finalized. Police rushed in early, fearing agent lives were in danger.
Painting Recovered (04:43)
“The Scream” was moved to Roberts’ hotel in Asgardstrand where authorities swooped in to recover it and make arrests. Enger was later picked up and charged, and a witness claimed to have heard Asheim talking about his involvement.
Suspects Prosecuted (03:05)
“The Scream” was returned to the National Gallery, and the Norwegian government allocated funds to upgrade security. Enger and Asheim were sentenced for the theft, and Olsen and Grytdal were convicted for handling stolen goods. The Department of Justice sued Ulving for damages.
Credits: Art Theft of the Century (01:07)
Credits: Art Theft of the Century
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