How to Get Away with Art Theft in 1976, but not Conspiracy in 1978
After going through pages and pages of assignment sheets, with hundreds of specific references to footage covering local events, I started to notice patterns. Major local happenings, be they court cases, political campaigns, accidents, protests, or construction tended to get several days of coverage with different footage and details of the story covered as they developed. Along with these major events there would also be, usually towards the bottom of the list of footage, events that only got brief coverage. One recently caught my interest, partly because of how vague the description was, and partly because if those vague details were played right they could easily be turned into the summary of a plotline to a summer blockbuster movie.
The clip was referred to as “Harvard Art Theft” and the minimalist description was as follows: “Six paintings worth 700 grand taken from Bok’s home on Elmwood st. Silent of house and pics of paintings.” To begin with I was surprised at paintings of that value being in someone’s home in 1976, when 700,000 dollars was a lot more money than it is today. I also didn’t know who Bok was, wanted to find out more about these paintings, and couldn’t possibly picture a major art theft happening on the Harvard campus during it’s ‘Love Story’ era.
It turns out that Derek C. Bok was the president of Harvard University in 1976. He lived in a home owned by the school, and was present but sleeping, during the heist. The thieves made their way into the house through a window and specifically targeted these paintings, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal, because they were not masterworks made by world famous artists. Apparently, it is easier to sell non-major works on the art black market. The most famous of these minor pieces were by Eugene Bodin, a French impressionist who was seen as an inspiration to Claude Monet. Unfortunately for the thieves, Sun Journal also claims that police valued the paintings at 385,000 dollars instead of the 700,000 dollar amount originally claimed by WCVB.
A later article in the Harvard Crimson in 1978 follows up on the story, naming two men who plead guilty to conspiracy charges. This of course, was after they tried to sell the paintings to undercover FBI agents who were taping their conversations during the sales. These two men however, were not the original thieves of the paintings; they purchased them later in 1976 in the Boston area. According to the Crimson, the original thieves are still missing and being pursued by the FBI.
If this had all actually played out in the Hollywood blockbuster fashion that I was imagining in my head earlier, this would be the part of the story where the camera pans across a sunny beach somewhere and shows the thieves, played by George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio surrounded by a pile of money and drinking something happily out of halves of a coconut. I wonder whatever happened to the original thieves, if the FBI ever found them, or how they spent all that money?
Associated Press. (1976, July 9). Police Searching for Painting Stolen from Home of Harvard Pres. Lewiston Evening Journal, pp. 7. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Pl8gAAAAIBAJ&sjid=l2UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1343,937273&dq=harvard+art+theft&hl=en
Hochman, Elizabeth A.. (1978, May 11). Conspirators Plead Guilty In Art Theft. Harvard Crimson. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1978/5/11/conspirators-plead-guilty-in-art-theft/