Dead New Mexico couple could have been greatest art thieves ever after $160m painting found in their bedroom
The iconic painting 'Woman-Ochre' by Willem de Kooning went missing nearly 30-years-ago from the University of Arizona Museum of Art on Thanksgiving day in 1985.
A New Mexico couple could have been behind one of the biggest art heists in the United States as a missing multi-million dollar painting was recovered from their bedroom after their death, according to reports.
The iconic painting 'Woman-Ochre' by Willem de Kooning went missing nearly 30-years-ago from the University of Arizona Museum of Art on Thanksgiving day in 1985. The suspects of the theft a the time were described as a man and woman in their 50s, according to reports.
The missing painting was found after an owner of an antique store in New Mexico called the museum's curator and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and told them that he had the famous stolen artwork with him after buying it from an estate sale at $2,000.
Newly discovered photos places a New Mexico couple, Jerry and Rita, in Tucson over 1985 Thanksgiving holiday when a de Kooning painting is stolen. Painting is discovered in their home in 2017 after they died. Above, composite of suspects. Below, Alters: https://t.co/vucURHOxXj pic.twitter.com/7n2IxBDgA0— Anne Ryman (@anneryman) August 1, 2018
The store owner, David Van Auker, who co-owns Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques, told the authorities that he purchased the painting from a house which belonged to Jerry and Rita Alter, who died in 2012 and 2017. Reports state that both of them died at the age of 81, according to the Daily Mail.
Van Auker told them that the painting was discreetly hidden behind the door of their bedroom and could only be seen once the door was closed.
As authorities looked for clues at the Alters' house, they found several of them which has led them to believe that the couple could be the suspects behind the stolen paintings.
The couple reportedly kept a day planner with details written on it about where they went, what they ate and what medications they were on. However, the couple did not fill the planner on the Thanksgiving day of 1985, the same day when the de Kooning painting was stolen.
Something else doesn’t add up. Jerry and Rita Alter worked in public schools for most of their careers. Yet they somehow managed to travel to 140 countries and all seven continents. https://t.co/LeD2iq0HmC— JA (@pwayers) August 4, 2018
FBI officials also found a family photo of the couple which showed that they were in Tuscon, a day before the heist. The couple has two children but the authorities have not been able to locate them yet.
Reports state that on Thanksgiving 1985, a security guard a the University Of Arizona Museum Of Art had unlocked the front door of the museum to allow an employee inside the building when a man and a woman walked in right behind the worker. As the museum was about to open for the day, the guard permitted them to enter. The man quickly walked upstairs to the second floor of the museum where the painting was displayed while the woman chatted with the guard.
The guard found it strange that nearly 15 minutes later the man walked down and the dup left the building in a hurry. The security guard then rushed to the second floor only to find the de Kooning had disappeared. The painting was cut from its frame, according to reports.
Willem de Kooning's 'Woman-Ochre' painting (valued at $160million) was stolen from the University Of Arizona Museum Of Art on Thanksgiving day in 1985.— Tojori_Jewel (@TojoriJ) August 4, 2018
It was found after 31 years. pic.twitter.com/x0F7o4YaMn
The pair reportedly flew away in a red sports car and the museum did not have security cameras at the time. Police officials did not find any fingerprints at the spot either.
The officials, however, released a sketch of the pair which bears a striking resemblance to the New Mexico couple.
No arrests have been made in the case yet as authorities are continuing with the investigation.