They couldn’t believe what the man was holding in his hands. And he was trying to sell it for only $2000. The man found a painting worth $165million hidden inside a wall in his late uncle’s house.
And that wasn’t all. The painting had been stolen decades ago. This will start a chain of events that will forever change the man’s family.
Ron Roseman of Houston, Texas, had been clearing out his late aunt and uncle, Rita and Jerry Alter’s home in Cliff, New Mexico. He gathered some of the late couple’s leftover collectibles during their search.
The plan was to bargain some of them off to an antique dealer in the area. What he discovered when he went there shook him to the core.
Jerry Alter was a beloved uncle and a respected member of the community. Everyone in the family loved him and his wife, Rita. But their past had not been free of adventure and danger. They loved to live intensely and have fun with every occasion they had, to the point of danger.
He was Ron’s Favourite uncle, so what he found out next made him wonder if everything he knew about his uncle was a lie.
Little to Roseman’s knowledge, one of the collectibles in the stash he discovered in his uncle’s house was a stolen decades-old Willem de Kooning canvas painting.
It was previously deemed the “crown jewel” of the University of Arizona Museum of Art (UAMA). The painting is valued at $165million. No one could believe it’s been sitting for decades in an old man’s home. And that wasn’t all.
The naive nephew was informed of the unsettling details surrounding the painting after receiving a call from a federal agent.
Days after auctioning the artwork and other items off for a meager $2,000, someone found the painting, recognized it, and immediately called authorities. The painting was stolen decades ago. They couldn’t believe it was now sitting in a corner antique shop.
The authorities and the museum crew couldn’t believe the painting was found just a mere few hours from them in the most incredible way. All of this time, it was just a short drive away.
A customer who had been visiting the New Mexico antique shop where the painting was sold spotted the distinctive details in the pricey piece of art. He immediately alerted the law enforcement.
After authorities got involved, it was just a matter of time until the painting would make it back to its rightful owner, the University of Arizona Museum of Art.
They couldn’t believe the painting had found its way back to the museum after all these years. Everyone was overjoyed to exhibit the painting once again for everyone to see. It was always a concern that the painting had been destroyed and didn’t exist anymore.
The 40-by-30-inch oil canvas, “Woman Ochre,” of a female subject, was stolen the day after Thanksgiving in 1985 – 27 years after the valuable piece was donated to the Tucson museum.
At the time, cameras had not yet been set in the exhibition. A mystery “man and woman” successfully executed a daring heist, according to a newspaper at the time, managing to steal one of the most valuable paintings in the museum.
The thieves of the painting were a man and a woman working together. Apparently, the woman distracted the museum security guard at the base of the stairs. At the same time, the man walked upstairs and cut the painting from its frame.
The painting is believed to have been rolled up and tucked under one of the thieves’ coats as they rushed out of the building. It was so simple yet so elaborate, with every detail planned carefully.
Meg Hagyard, the interim director at UAMA, had said that it all was a very traumatic event for the institution and the people that lived through it. And many still remember it to this day.
The thieves pictured in a sketch showed a blonde-haired woman and dark-haired man, who struck an eerie resemblance to someone familiar to Ron Roseman, the man who found the painting. The thieves reportedly sped off after the heist, never to be seen again.
The sketch pictured a couple that closely resembled Ron’s uncle and aunt. He couldn’t believe it. His favorite uncle was the prime suspect in the stolen painting case. When he received a call from the FBI that day, his entire world shattered.
The entire family was shocked and couldn’t believe that their favorite uncle had stolen the $165million Willem de Kooning “Woman Ochre” painting. And they managed to keep it hidden for about three decades, with no one suspecting a thing until after they passed away.
After it was first sold to the antique store, a man named James stopped in front of the painting and actually kneeled down trying to scratch at it, co-owner of the antique shop, Buck Burns, revealed.
He grabbed him by his wrist and called the man crazy when he offered the owners an initial $200,000. Immediately after the discussion, Burns and his fellow co-owner locked it in a safe place. After the men carefully researched, they found articles online that pictured the stolen painting. That’s when they made a phone call to the museum, and law enforcement got involved.
University of Arizona Police Chief Brian Seastone investigated the theft case for several years. He said that 32 years later, he got to see the tears of joy and happiness as it really did return to its rightful place.
When looking at art across the country, or the world, that’s been stolen, there are a couple of reasons it gets found. Either somebody passes away, people find the art, it gets sold, or someone brings some information forward. One of the three happened in that case.
Now, federal officials were investigating the case in closer detail. Many believed that the late Alters, two wealthy school teachers who traveled the world during their lifetime, were responsible for the theft.
Ron Roseman said that the stolen painting hung in a hidden corner of their home for some time. The couple kept it in a private room behind the door, where visitors would not see it easily.
A few years later, an unusual book was written by Jerry back in 2011 titled “The Cup and the Lip.” The book told the story of two people who robbed a museum of a 120-carat jewel.
The story was said to closely align with recounted details from the 1985 holiday heist. It depicts a couple pulling off a heist in a similar fashion to the real Antlers.