May 22, 2024

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FBI investigates thrill-seeking teachers alleged to be international art thieves | New Mexico

FBI investigates thrill-seeking teachers alleged to be international art thieves |  New Mexico

The untold mystery of a middle-aged couple who hung a stolen $150 million Willem de Kooning painting behind the bedroom door of their home in Cliffe, New Mexico, may be closer to being solved after the FBI agreed to help track down two more paintings. Which was in the possession of the couple.

A new twist in the story of Jerry and Rita Alter, two teachers in New Mexico who somehow financed a life of travel and adventure to the point that they were suspected of being international art thieves, came to light recently when the top federal law enforcement agency in the United States confirmed that they were involved in the case.

The couple, both now dead, are believed to have carried out a series of art robberies in the mid-1980s. In one, the couple allegedly entered a Tucson, Arizona, museum and stole a de Kooning painting using a deceptive method. A woman distracted museum staff with questions while a man with a fake mustache lifted the painting from the wall, put it under his coat and walked out.

The theft of Woman-Ochre has not been pinned conclusively on the Alters – the painting was recovered in 2017 after Rita’s death and now hangs in Tucson. But the FBI’s involvement in another robbery that same year could help resolve questions about the Alters’ motives, if not their apparent robbery system.

According to their travel agent, interviewed in The Thief Collector, a 2022 documentary about the couple, they were “adrenaline junkies” who loved to travel to one country and then pay smugglers to smuggle them to another.

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According to the Taos News on April 24the second theft involves two paintings stolen by the Taos Society of Artists – Aspens by Victor Huygens and The Fully Dressed Indian Boy by Joseph Henry Sharp – from the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, in March 1985.

A woman in a wheelchair distracted museum attendees by asking questions about the elevator while a man wearing a long black coat — not wearing a fake mustache in this case — ascended to the second floor where the paintings were hung.

“Then he’s up there in a room full of paintings and he can make as much noise as he wants, but he works fast,” said David Witt, the museum’s former curator. “By the time he finished his rampage there, [the attendant] He returned to the circulation desk – just in time to hear Jerry running up the stairs.

In a news report at the time, the newspaper said the theft occurred while Witt was attending a seminar on museum security in Santa Fe. A police report said that “no physical evidence remained at the scene.”

After Jerry Alter died in 2012, five years before his wife, his nephew cleared out the house and donated some items to the Town and Country Garden Club thrift store in Silver City. Customers at the store discovered de Kooning’s work and the Taos works were sold at auction in Arizona.

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But now the Harwood Museum in Taos wants them back and has called in the FBI to help find them.

Juniper Leheresy, Harwood’s CEO, told the Taos News she believes it was purchased inadvertently.

“I don’t know if it has been sold from that buyer since then, but it is likely that someone has bought it and has been living with it for many years,” Leheresy reportedly said. “We hope they realize they belong to the Harwood family and bring them back.”