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The Paintings Remain Missing, but Authorities Say There's DNA

Nils M has been charged in the Netherlands
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2021 1:00 PM CDT
Prosecutors Say Bits of DNA Point to Thief in Daring Heists
This image shows Vincent Van Gogh's painting titled "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring," which was stolen from the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands.   (Groninger Museum via AP)

(Newser) – His resume fits: a Dutch man identified as Nils M spent five years behind bars in connection with the 2012 theft of a 17th-century church vessel from a museum whose doors he blasted open. Prosecutors allege he struck again following his release. The 59-year-old was arrested in April and stands accused of what the New York Times calls "two daring heists" that occurred five months apart in 2020. First a painting by Vincent Van Gogh was stolen, then one by Frans Hals. Nils M denies involvement. So why do authorities think they have their man? DNA.

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In the case of Van Gogh's "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring," surveillance video shows a man smash through two glass doors at the Singer Laren museum with a sledgehammer to retrieve the painting, which was on loan from the Groninger Museum. Prosecutors say the painting's frame was discarded in pieces in the parking lot, and that some of those pieces held DNA—which they allege matched with Nils M's DNA. In the case of the Hals painting, "Two Laughing Boys With a Mug of Beer," an orange tension strap was found tied to a flagpole outside the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden. Prosecutors believe it was used to either lower the painting down a 10-foot wall or used by the thief to descend the wall. It, too, allegedly had Nils M's DNA.

But Nils M's lawyer supplied a defense, saying that he uses the straps in his work as a car repairman, and it's possible one he touched could have somehow been used by the thief. As for the Van Gogh theft, his lawyer notes other DNA was found on the frame and that the video of the scene suggests the thief was left-handed, which Nils M is not. The Hals work is worth much more—as much as $17.6 million to a hair under $3 million for the Van Gogh. Neither has been recovered, though Artnet previously reported a "proof of life" photo of the Van Gogh emerged in June 2020. The judges are slated to issue their ruling Friday. (Read more art heist stories.)

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