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Inside the Truly Weird Heist of a Salvador Dali Painting

It was stolen from Rikers Island
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 13, 2018 8:17 AM CDT
This June 20, 2014 file photo shows the Rikers Island jail complex in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
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(Newser) – Perhaps the only thing weirder than the fact that a Salvador Dali painting hung for decades in Rikers Island jail complex is the heist that took the piece from its walls. James Fanelli has the story for Esquire, and goes back to the start: In 1965 Dali had agreed to visit Rikers and paint with prisoners ("he was a sucker for a good media stunt," quips Fanelli), but he woke up ill, quickly made a 5-foot by 3-foot painting of Jesus on the cross, and sent it by way of apology for bowing out. Over the years it got stained by coffee in a mess hall, was put into storage, was nearly thrown out, and then ended up in the lobby of Riker's Eric M. Taylor Center, one of its 10 jails, where it hung until March 1, 2003. But at 1am that day, a fire drill took place.

With the lobby empty, the thieves took the painting from its glass case and put up a poor replica—smaller, and with a brown frame painted onto the canvas as a stand-in for the mahogany frame. Prison guards noticed the switch within hours, and Rikers officials quickly determined that the only people who would have had access to the lobby, and the surveillance camera that had conveniently stopped working, were those who worked there. And so the hunt began. Fanelli traces what came next: The guard who confessed and named names and revealed the painting's supposed hiding place, the wires two of the men who said they were involved wore, and the arrest of the supposed ringleader—who was found not guilty. The painting was never recovered. Read the full story for much more. (Read more Longform stories.)

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