$100M Stolen Painting Hung in Couple's Bedroom for Years

But did Jerry and Rita Alter brazenly steal it from the University of Arizona Museum?
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2018 1:30 PM CDT
They Were a Fun Couple. And Had a Stolen Painting
In this Aug. 9, 2017 photo provided by the University of Arizona, Willem de Kooning's "Woman-Ochre" is readied for examination by Nathan Saxton, left, an exhibitions specialist, and Kristen Schmidt, a registrar, in Phoenix.   (University of Arizona via AP)

Jerry and Rita Alter were worldly, fascinating, and kept a stolen Willem de Kooning painting in their bedroom—but did they actually steal it? A few clues may tell the tale. The Alters had moved from New York City to rural New Mexico in their 50s when, the day after Thanksgiving 1985, "Woman-Ochre" by de Kooning was brazenly cut from its frame at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson. It happens the Alters were visiting family in Tucson that Thanksgiving, the Arizona Republic reports. They also drove mostly red cars, similar to the "rust-colored" getaway car reportedly used by the two thieves. The Alters also bear some resemblance to police composite sketches of the male-female pair. And they hung the painting behind their bedroom door, out of view, for years.

What's more, a fictional travel adventure written by the couple chronicles a grandmother and granddaughter who steal a museum's 120-carat emerald and keep it behind a panel—"and two pairs of eyes, exclusively, are there to see!" they write. The New York Times suggests that Jerry (dressed as a woman) and his son Joseph, then 23, bear a greater resemblance to the composites and may have stolen it. But who's to say? Jerry and Rita are now dead, and Joseph, who's suffered serious psychological problems for years, won't talk. Rita's nephew, Ron Roseman, has a more benign view: Maybe Jerry and his aunt were at the gallery when someone told them, "I have something better in my garage." As for the painting—now valued at around $100 million—an antique-shop owner who happened to buy it with the Alters' estate turned it in last year. (More stolen art stories.)

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