Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wordcraft -- The art of the steal

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures

by Robert K. Wittman


Quick -- which leisure activity in the U.S. draws a greater attendance -- NFL football or museum visits? If you guessed football, you’re like most of us -- wrong.

That’s the kind of message former FBI special agent Robert K. Wittman brought to his talk at this month’s Late Nights program at the Dallas Museum of Art. In 2007, he stated in his memoir, Priceless, more people visited the Smithsonian Institution’s museums (24.2 million) than attended a game played by the National Football League (17 million).

And Americans don’t just look at art. As Wittman said, we put our money where our mouth is, spending $80 billion -- 40 percent of the world’s total -- for art.

In spite of that, “art and antiquity crime is tolerated, in part, because it is considered a victimless crime. Having personally rescued national treasures on three continents, I know firsthand that this is foolishly nearsighted,” he wrote.

Some of that nonchalance, admittedly, changed after the biggest single property crime -- not just the single biggest art theft -- occurred in the early morning hours after St. Patrick’s Day, 1990. That was when two men dressed in Boston police uniforms robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of art worth, at the time $300 million (now valued at $500 million).

Wittman bookended his memoir with a discussion of the FBI’s investigation of the Gardner robbery, raising eyebrows with the shocking allegation that the agency bungled recovery of the stolen items, including Rembrandts and one of the few Vermeer paintings in existence. The crime is still unsolved despite a $5 million reward.

As for me, I’ll never complain about having my purse searched at a museum again. I managed to snap a picture of Wittman as he signed books, just before a DMA employee admonished me for using flash in the museum. That’s the extent of my crime spree.

For more on the now-retired Wittman’s art security business and personal appearances, see If you’ve got a tip on the Gardner robbery, check out the revised police sketches at the Boston Herald’s site,


My writing friend Robin Yaklin has a new blog featuring new authors, This month’s featured author is Kathleen M. Rodgers, author of The Final Salute, based on her life as the wife of an Air Force pilot during Desert Storm. See her bio and video, or comment to receive answers from Kathleen this Saturday, August 27.


Also upcoming -- The Richardson Public Library’s annual Friends of the Library book sale later this week. The sale is open to the public August 26 through 28 in the Basement Program Room of the library at 900 Civic Center Drive. Friends of the Library get a preview Thursday, August 25, from 5:30 - 8:30 P.M. For membership information and hours, see


1 comment:

  1. thanks for the mention of Debut Authors, Melissa. I'm having a great time putting together promotions for the authors. They are so varied. Some really interesting ones coming up--ghosts on a mountain, plant medicine, the Titanic designer to mention some.

    Wittman must have been so interesting. When hubby and I were in Boston we wanted to visit the IS Gardner museum, but ran out of time. Maybe next visit.