“There has been a burglary. The thief or thieves entered the building by the roof. Two paintings are missing. We are still searching the premises and we are still investigating the scene of the crime," a police spokesman told Reuters on December 7, 2002. The paintings he mentioned? A pair of oil paintings by the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
On that Saturday morning, Dutch police found a broken window one story above street level and a 15-foot ladder leaning against the rear of the building (as reported by The Associated Press). The break-in did, in fact, set off the museum’s alarm system, but the thieves and the paintings had disappeared before the police arrived. In July of 2004, two men were convicted of the theft.
While security cameras and DNA placed the suspects at the scene of the crime, both men claimed they were framed. They were each sentenced to around 4 years in prison. The paintings, “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” and “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” with a combined value of $2.2 million, according to a past museum estimate, were missing for more than a decade. They were found in September, 2016 during a raid on a property belonging to fugitive mobster Raffaele Imperiale at Castellammare di Stabia, southeast of Naples.
How exactly the paintings ended up in Italy is still a mystery. The area is a notorious hotspot for the nefarious activities of the Camorra, the Neopolitan mafia. Giorgio Toschi, a general with Italy’s financial and customs police, said the theft had ranked on the FBI’s top 10 of art crimes. The recovered paintings will be on exhibit in Naples’ Capodimonte museum until Feb. 26, 2017. At the unveiling of the two paintings, Toschi stated: "More than ever we are seeing art works being used by criminals either as safe haven investments or as a way of making payments or guaranteeing deals between organized criminal groups."