LA Police work to track down owners of stolen art

Police in LA attempt to find owners of art that was missing for nearly 30 years.

September 5, 2019, 6:12 PM

The Los Angeles police department has launched a program to track down stolen art.

Operation Demetra, named after a similar European task force, was launched in June after an auction house contacted police to say they had received a few paintings they suspected were stolen.

The LAPD was able to link the paintings back to art pieces that went missing years ago and eventually recovered more than 100 items from several warehouses in Los Angeles and one in Orange County.

Landscape painting of sailboats on the water.

“Art theft is really rare. It’s a specific item,” Los Angeles Detective Mel Vergara told ABC News.

Some of the pieces that were recovered in June include signed lithographs of pictures by Pablo Picasso, antiques such as furniture and firearms, and collectibles signed by the likes of Grace Kelly and U.S. Presidents.

A painting/portrait of a young girl holding water cup and a painting of a man and woman.
A sketched black and white portrait of President Lincoln. Front and back of framed artwork.
A framed photograph of Princess Grace of Monaco's wedding. Signed copy. Front and back.
Framed and signed lithorgaph of Pablo Picasso's Bouquet of Peace, 1958. Photo files are front and back of framed lithograph.

“Some of these paintings don’t have the artists’ names because a lot of them were damaged and stuff,” said Detective Vergara. “They weren’t properly stored.”

Vergara said he has reached out to local art experts from the Getty Museum, the Broad and even the Autry Museum to uncover the details of each found art piece.

Framed and signed lithograph of Pablo Picasso's Flowers for UCLA art piece. Photo files are front and back of framed lithograph.
Two rare table art pieces were recovered.

One of the art pieces that was stolen in 1992 and recovered in the heist was worth $60,000. Vergara thinks the rest of the art pieces are worth thousands.

In an effort to find the owners of each art piece, the LAPD has posted photos of the artwork online.

Painting of two girls recovered from the stolen pieces.

“We want to be able to ID them to owners or to relatives that are living and to get a hold of them,” said Detective Vergara. “We’d be more than happy to unite them to it.”

Framed painting of a day in the park.

The LAPD has been cracking down on art thefts since the '90s.

When a number of robberies occurred in areas across the West LA, a unique two-detective LAPD task force was created to find art that had been stolen, Vergara said. It was the first of its kind the LAPD was the only force in the country dedicated to finding stolen artwork. Because of their efforts, over $100M worth of art has been recovered.

Watercolor painting of blue trees.

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