Rose tried her hardest to keep her cool, but she ended up losing her composure anyway. Once she learned more about the painting from her grandmother, she could not help but let out a cry. It was impossible to rein in the emotions that she felt. She did not expect any of this to happen, but she found herself across a master appraiser on Antiques Roadshow anyway. The truth about this family heirloom took her by surprise, and she did not know how to feel about the news that she just received. She tried to get everything under control as the appraiser patiently waited for Rose to recover. It was a lot to take in, as you can probably imagine. Needless to say, it was a day that she will never forget for as long as she lived. You will soon find out why this is the case! Who would have thought that something so life-changing started with a bug?
Antiques Roadshow Is A Famous Show
Everyone was thrilled when they heard that Antiques Roadshow was going to be hosted by Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center. The popular TV show managed to lure in more than 5,000 people. What they had in common was that they had an object they hoped would be worth a good chunk of money. Of course, it was also possible that it was actually nothing but junk!
It Had A Lot Of Sentimental Value
Rose brought a painting that she wanted to be assessed. It had been in the family for a very long time. Valuable or not, it was a priceless artifact for her due to its sentimental value alone. Despite this, she had always been curious to see if it had any monetary value. Was it nothing more than a pretty painting that got passed on from one generation to the next? She was not sure which was which, but she was about to find out.
Right Above The Bed Of Her Grandmother
As a little girl, she had seen the work of art hanging above the bed of her grandmother. It had always been something that she treasured. It had a calming effect on her, which is the reason she felt the need to keep the painting close. No one in the family knew if this was a reproduction or a print. This meant that they had no idea about its value. But why did Rose suspect that it was a valuable piece?
From One Generation To Another
When her grandma passed away, the painting was handed down to this young woman. It was an honor for her to call it hers as it was something that had been so dear to her loved one. It was a good way to feel connected to her late grandma. Rose was happy that they at least had this in between them now that she is no longer around. She had been admiring it one day when her eyes picked up on something inside of it. What could it be?
It Had A Small Blemish
The work of art was beautiful, but there was something that was getting in the way of its beauty. Rose brought the painting outside so that she could see the stain that she had just noticed. She found a tiny black insect on it. How did it get between the glass plate and the canvas? Annoyed, she pried open the frame and took out the glass. This meant that she essentially exposed it to the air and sunlight.
What She Saw Inside Of It
Rose took a better look at the insect and saw that it was actually a mosquito. She gripped it between her forefinger and thumb to look at it closely. She grazed the canvas with a knuckle. Her heart was starting to beat really fast. She left the mosquito on the flowers and put the glass back on top of the piece. Later, she shared, “I took it out to the front yard and I opened it up to get the mosquito out so I could take it with me to college, and then it kind of scared me a little. I closed it back up immediately because it looked like it might be real.” The truth about it only came out when she spoke to the appraiser.
Wondering About The Truth Behind It
We doubt that there are people who consider mosquitos their favorite animals. On the contrary, these critters tend to be very unpopular. No one likes getting their blood sucked out. The fact that they make a lot of noises and leaves rashes on our skin does not help their case either. Lastly, they spread diseases in different parts of the world as well! However, this bug turned out to be important in this story.
She Wanted To Get It Appraised
It took a while before Rose got her turn with the appraiser. After waiting a long time, she could finally speak to the expert! They asked her to sit down, so she put the work of art on the evaluation table. She held her breath and waited for what the specialist had to say about her item. The master appraiser was called Meredith Hilferty. Rose could not help but feel nervous when the expert sat down in front of her.
What She Knew About It
First of all, Meredith asked her if she knew anything about this work of art. It was a good thing that Rose was not totally in the dark about the painting. She told Meredith what she knew about the artist. “I know he was born in France and then he moved to northern Pennsylvania,” she shared with Meredith.
The Artist Is Henry Francois Farny
The painting was a work of art by Henry Francois Farny. He was an artist who had a rather unlikely relationship with the Native Americans. The rumors say that he learned the story of the forest from the Seneca tribe when he was just a child. They hunted close to his home, which was located close to a reservation in New York. However, how on earth did the family get the painting in the first place?
There Were A Ton of Speculation
It turns out that Rose had an idea of how this could have happened. “So he could have been in the area at the time when he was painting it when it was given to my grandmother. And then he moved out to Ohio. But he had associations with the Sioux tribe and they actually adopted him in and they gave him a cipher, ‘LongBoots,’” she told Meredith, “And that’s what that little circle under his signature is.”
An Important Question For Her
Meredith nodded as she listened to what Rose had to say. The master appraiser said that it sounded right and went as far as to say that there was a chance that it was authentic. After all, it coincided with the whereabouts of Rose’s grandmother at the time. However, she had another question for the owner of the painting before she expounded: “Have you had it appraised before? Do you know if she had it appraised?” She used a gentle tone. Rose paused for a second as if she was thinking of her response.
It Had Been Evaluated Before
“It was appraised as part of a general house appraisal twice. In 1998 it was appraised as a print at $200 and in 2004 at $250,” answered Rose. Meredith was shocked to hear this. Even though you could see the disbelief in her eyes, she simply smiled back. However, the tone of her voice changed. It was as if she already knew something and was trying to hide whatever it was.
She Knew Something About It
Meredith took a look at the work of art and then back at its owner. She fought back a smile. It was time to drop the bomb. She did not miss a beat when she delivered her professional opinion on how much the family heirloom was worth. People were taken aback by the way she delivered the news. Rose flushed red as soon as she heard what Meredith had to say. A tear even rolled down her face!
The True Value Of This Painting
Why? Meredith then turned to Rose. In a calm tone, she informed the owner of the painting, “So, if we were going to put this in an auction today, I would suggest an estimate of $200,000 – $300,000.” It was clear that Rose did not expect to hear this. She was stunned. However, what she said next was shocking.
Her Face Showed How She Felt
Meredith did not speak as the camera panned to Rose to catch her reaction. You could see how the young woman felt right at that moment. It changed from shock to disbelief to happiness. She giggled as the tears formed in her eyes. While sobbing, she posed a harmless question that shows us how she truly felt then and there.
How She Reacted To The News
“So I can’t hang it then?” she croaked out amidst her sobs. This was the moment that she processed what all of this meant. If the painting was that valuable, she should probably not leave it right above the bed as a piece of decoration! At first, Meredith appeared shocked by this display of emotion. However, she immediately went on to fill Rose in on the other fascinating facts about this work of art.
A Painting Of A Sioux Tribe
If you look at the painting, you will see a crew of Sioux people rounding the bend of a mountain trail. They are depicted on horseback. The artist made it at the peak of his career. “1890 is when we start to see some of his very best paintings. He represented the Native Americans in a very peaceful, tranquil way,” Meredith informed Rose and everyone else present.
A Different Way To Look At It
“You can see that in this painting, he didn’t really ever bring conflict into his work as some of the other artists of that time did,” Meredith went on. Rose listened to everything that the expert had to say about her precious painting. “He really just wanted to show the Native Americans in their natural environment – without too many other things happening besides the landscape around them.”
Sitting On A Fortune The Whole Time
“Her dad, I’m guessing, would’ve given it to her after she spent the summer at a dude ranch when she was 19, in… like… the ’40s,” confirmed Rose amidst all the tears. Everyone found her reaction to the news precious. They could not believe that it was the first thing on her mind when she learned that she had been sitting on a fortune the entire time!
She Now Had To Deal With This Dilemma
“What a horrible dilemma. Something so cherished, so beautiful, and important to the memory of your family. A historical relic from an American master. But on the other hand, a MASSIVE pile of cash that could change your world. A new home, or college or relief from grinding debt,” a woman chimed in. They added, “Such a heavy choice and no wrong answer, but really no right one either.”
Her Reaction Became An Internet Sensation
By now, more than four million netizens have seen the moment in question. They all watched as Rose learn the real value of her precious painting. On YouTube, people mostly had nice things to say about what happened. One person said, “It was interesting that her first reaction was an expression of loss despite the value she learned the painting has. She said, ‘So, I can’t put it up?’ and shed tears.”
What The Commenters Had To Say
Let us hear what else this insightful commenter had to say. They added, “Meaning, the painting reminds her of her grandmother and because of the high value of the object she can’t risk it being stolen. She must place it where it will be safe from thieves but away from her eyes. She can’t see it every day and think of her dear grandma. Very sweet reaction.” Sadly, there were also less positive comments there.
Some Of Them Were Disappointed
Others were not just disappointed but also angry at the two evaluations that the heirloom underwent before the one with Meredith. Those people had been completely wrong about how much the painting was really worth. “What kind of appraiser just assumes it’s a print?” one person asked. Some people debated whether it was a scam or a mistake. There were commenters who pointed that it was probably a part of a broader house evaluation, so they did not pay much attention to it. Despite everything, Rose only had one worry in mind once she learned how much the work of art was truly worth.
The Damage Was Not Intentional
“Should I have left the mosquito in the back?” the young woman asked, stammering. She was worried that she had messed up by exposing the painting to air and sunlight. Rose must have been relieved to hear Meredith say, “It’s actually not a bad idea that you took the bug out.” But what does that mean?
On The Bright Side Of Things
“Ultimately, we would like for a conservator to do that but the bug could have continued to cause a stain, but no. It’s good that the bug wasn’t there anymore,” Meredith shared with Rose. It is hard to miss the look of relief that flashed on Rose’s face once she heard this. She apparently did the right thing!
It Turned Out To Be The Right Call
Yes, she made the right decision by removing the mosquito from the painting. Meredith said that this might have left a stain, which would require the services of a conservator to get out. In the end, the mosquito actually has a pretty big part in this story even if this were the case. If it had not been for the bug, Rose might never have known just how much the family heirloom was actually worth!
Nothing More Than Pure Luck
The mosquito might have been tiny, but it played a pretty big part in the discovery. After all, this was what pointed Rose in the right direction in the first place. When she saw the painting from beneath the glass, she realized that it might be the real thing. If it had not been for the mosquito, there was no way that she would have thought to pry it open in the first place. Luckily, she did. That was the reason she was sitting right in front of Meredith in the first place! However, this meant that Rose had to make a big decision.
It Was A Daunting Decision To Make
We wonder what we would do if we had been the ones in her position. The painting was a sentimental gift from her late grandmother. It allowed her to feel connected to her deceased love one, but it could also make a world of a difference if she sold it. This would be enough to completely change her life! Even so, this is something that she had grown up seeing and loving. The truth is that we will never really know unless we were in her shoes. However, there are other people who are willing to do anything in their power if it meant keeping something valuable in their possession…
He Did Not Expect To Hear This
He did not expect to hear this about some of the people he loved best in the world. The man was shocked to get a call from the FBI. The authorities informed him of something that his aunt and uncle allegedly did in the past. There was no way it could be true… right? He knew these people, so they could not have possibly committed one of the most notorious art crimes of the ‘80s. However, he started to wonder just how well he actually knew them. Is there any way to really know someone inside out?
They Had Been Hiding A Huge Secret
Rita and Jerome Alter seemed like model citizens to Ron Roseman. The two of them were both educated people who were well-liked in the community. It helped that they were teachers. They were fun people who saved money in order to see all the continents in the world. Ron had been thrilled to hear their stories. However, this one was not something that his aunt and uncle shared with him…
Just Like Any Other Couple
From the outside, you would not have thought that the couple was anything more than regular, middle-class people. In the ‘70s, they moved to Cliff, New Mexico. Jerry liked adventure, traveling, and art. Rita, on the other hand, was known for her kindness. For one, she was a speech pathologist. Apart from her career choices, she also supported her spouse when he retired to pursue other things at the age of 48.
The Truth Has Finally Come Out
Their neighbors were familiar enough with them, but the Alter couple mostly kept to themselves. No one knew that they had been harboring a dark secret all this time. In 2011, Jerry died of natural causes. His wife followed suit only five years after his passing. They had two kids: Joseph and Barbara. Ron Roseman had been tasked to serve as the executor of the Alter estate since he lived close to Cliff. If this had not happened, the truth might not have come out just yet… In fact, it might not have been discovered at all!
Hoping To Get Rid Of All Of It
Ron put the home of the couple on the market. After that, he asked some dealers to take a look at their belongings. It only took him a couple of days to sell the majority of the things in the house. He wanted to rid himself of everything right away. He ended up selling the paintings, African artifacts, and pieces of furniture to the highest bidder. For only $2,000, David van Auker brought home the spoils.
The Scene Of The Crime
You see, the truth is that Ron expected to get more than $2000 for it. However, he was relieved that he could get everything done and over with right away. He had no idea that he had just sold something valuable on that day. There was no way for him to know that one of the paintings had been missing for the last three decades. At long last, the detectives could finally blow this case wide open after such a long time.
One Item In Particular
David van Auker was happy with what he had brought home that day. It was a great deal! He went on to sort everything and put a price tag on them. However, there was one particular object that caught his eye. There was something about him that made him look at it over and over again. He could tell that it was special. However, he did not understand why until a customer told him something about it…
Someone Spotted It In The Store
That day, David decided that he had already worked enough. He closed shop for the night and returned to his house in Pinos Altos. The following day, however, he learned something about a piece that he had just acquired. There was an artist who walked through the door of his antique shop that day. This person had been the one to inform David of the truth about the painting that he could not stop looking at!
He Just Could Not Believe It
“It’s my favorite aunt and uncle,” explained Ron. “You know I couldn’t imagine… you know scenarios running through my head… I felt like a deer in the headlights.” He refused to believe the accusations made by the FBI at first. That was his Aunt Rita and Uncle Jerry, after all. However, the truth eventually sank in. He started to wonder if it was true. Did his relatives actually pull off a bold heist like that?
On That Fateful Day
Everything began on November 29, 1985. In the morning, a security guard had been opening the door of an art museum in Tucson, Arizona. He did this to allow a staff member to go in. The museum had not yet opened its doors to the public that day, but a couple walked towards him anyway for a little chitchat.
She Tried To Distract The Guard
The woman appeared to have been in her sixties. She chatted with the security guard about a number of things. She brought up the weather and art as a man slipped into the door covertly. He went for the third floor without any hesitation. A couple of minutes after that, he reappeared by her side as if nothing had happened. Together, the two of them retreated to a two-door sports car the color of rust!
Something Was Clearly Amiss
It is incredible to think that the man got past the security guard without raising suspicion. Still, the guard was suspicious as the couple did not wait for the museum to open. He felt worried for a reason. They did not have security cameras that would let him see what went on while he was distracted. He only figured out the truth as he stared at a wall on the third floor. One of the paintings had gone missing.
The Painting In Question
The painting that had vanished was “Woman-Ochre” by Willem De Kooning! On the spot where it was supposed to be, there was only a rectangular canvas that the painting had been cut out of. The thief must have used a blade. The police failed to find fingerprints. They did not have anything to go, save for the description of the couple and the car. Sadly, the security guard did not catch the plate number.
Woman-Ochre By Willem De Kooning
Does the name of the artist sound familiar to you? If not, you should know that he was an abstract painter who belonged to the mid-century expressionist movement. His paintings go for a lot of money. One of them was even sold for $137.5 million! Everyone was devastated to hear about the disappearance of “Woman-Ochre.” No one knew what happened to it until more than three decades later.
He Was In Complete Disbelief
The truth is that David van Auker did not think that the abstract painting was worth a lot of money. He started to get an idea of how wrong he was when an artist entered the store and told him, “That’s a Willem De Kooning!” As you can imagine, he did not expect to learn this. It is the kind of thing that you can only dream about. When he did his homework on the painting, he learned what happened to it 33 years ago. His eyes popped out when he learned that it was stolen from the Arizona Museum of Art.
How He Kept The Painting Safe
He was astonished at first, but this feeling made way for fear when he digested this piece of information. This meant that he had to hide it as soon as he could. It is pretty ironic that the bathroom was the only room in the store with a lock that worked. That is the reason he left the painting locked inside it. David later said, “We were afraid someone would bash it or flick paint off it so that’s when we decided we would pick it up and stick it somewhere safe.” The next thing he did was call the museum.
After Such A Long Time
“I had daydreams of getting that phone call, of someone calling up or someone mysteriously sending a package and the painting being inside of it,” explained Olivia Miller. She serves as the curator of UAMA. She added, “I don’t think I honestly thought it would actually happen.” It was only natural for her to feel skeptical about the call. It is a good thing that David relayed a detail that convinced her it was true.
What Made Them Believe Him
“The thing he said that really stood out, that made me – I was taking it seriously but really made me stop – was he said there are lines across it as if it’s cracked like it’s been rolled up,” shared Olivia Miller. “Ok, that’s just a detail that – nobody could just say that.” After this, Chief Brian Seastone received a call.
It Took A While
Chief Brian Seastone had been investigating the disappearance of the De Kooning painting for more than three decades by then. He knew that it was going to resurface one of these days. “I just had this feeling,” he said, “So, 32 years later I got to see the tears of joy and happiness as it really did come home.”
It Had To Undergo Authentication
There was no way that they would just take anyone’s word for it. They had to carefully examine the painting. In the end, they learned that it was indeed the real thing. They were all shocked to learn that Rita and Jerry had stored it behind the bedroom door. The couple kept it away from outsiders all this time. There is also evidence that this couple had been the ones who actually stole it in the first place.
The Painting Was On Private Display
“My personal thought, and it may be totally wrong, but when I first saw where the painting was hanging in the house, it was for their private display,” shared Buck Burns, who is the co-owner of an antique shop. He continued, “Not for anybody else. It was hung behind that door and when that door was open nobody could see it.” However, there was a piece of evidence that shocked everyone even more.
Right Under Their Noses
You see, Jerry Alter wrote a book of short stories. Called “The Cup and the Lip,” it came out in 2011. There was a story that sounded uncannily similar to what happened to the painting. It told the story of a woman and her daughter as they rob a museum of a 120-carat jewel by keeping the guard distracted and running away in a car. Once they get home, they left it in a secret panel so that they can view it for the rest of their lives.
Not The Only Evidence There Was
No matter what, Ron Roseman still found it very hard to believe that his uncle and aunt had anything to do with the theft of the painting. “I just can’t imagine that they would,” he shared. “That wasn’t the aunt and uncle that I knew.” Sadly, they have since found more evidence that points to the Alter couple as the guilty party in the art heist. This new piece of information destroyed any room for doubt.
Yet Another Smoking Gun
They found a photo of Jerry and Rita Alter in 2018. Its date read 1985, and it was shot in Tucson, Arizona on Thanksgiving. It meant that this was taken only a day before the theft of the De Kooning painting! Aside from that, the FBI learned something else. In the personal collection of the family, they saw photos of him with a red sports car. It fit the description of the getaway car described by the security guard on that fateful day. There was no way that these things were just coincidences.
There Was A Resemblance As Well
People also saw the police sketch of the thieves. It might have been made in 1985, but the people depicted were the spitting image of the Alters. We have already heard a lot of things that make it clear that Jerry and Rita stole it. On top of all that, no one knows how on earth two teachers with modest salaries paid for their extensive world travels and huge property. It just did not make any sense!
It Has Since Been Safely Returned
At the moment, the investigation is still ongoing. No one has been arrested in relation to the theft so far. We might never know if Jerry and Rita Alter actually conducted one of the best art heists in recent memory. However, the evidence strongly suggests that this is the case. What makes this even more amazing is that they basically got away with the crime. We are glad that “Woman-Ochre” by De Kooning has at least seen a happy ending. It is now in the museum once more. Let us keep our fingers crossed that they have since improved the state of their security measures! After all, it is said to be worth more than $160 million.