Los Angeles Police recover huge trove of art work 25 years after it was first stolen

Rozina Sabur
One of the Picasso paintings recovered by Los Angeles Police Department - LAPD

It was a call the Los Angeles Police Department had been awaiting for 25 years. 

This summer, an auctioneer from Southern California contacted detectives to say he recognised pictures of stolen items listed on the department's website - they were works of art currently hanging in his gallery. 

The items in question had been stolen from Hollywood's wealthy residents during a spate of burglaries in 1993. While the LAPD had apprehended two suspects after an international investigation, the stolen items appeared to have disappeared without a trace.

The treasure trove of art included paintings by Pablo Picasso and his contemporary Joan Mirò, as well as antiques such as documents signed by former US presidents Ronald Reagan and Howard Taft.

The tip off led the LAPD to reopen Operation Demetra in June, comprising of Lieutenant Mel Vergara and detectives from the original 1990s investigation. The team followed a trail from the auction house which led to four search warrants being issued in Los Angeles County and Orange County.

An abstract painting thought to be by Miro recovered by the Los Angeles Police Department Credit: LAPD

The investigators have recovered more than 100 paintings, sculptures, furniture and antique guns and determined that at least some fo the art dates back to the 1990s break-ins. The recovered items included two pieces by Picasso, one by Miró, and a picture and letter signed by Mr Reagan while he was governor of California.

Detectives announced the discovery this week as they attempt to locate the rightful owners. The department has created a website with pictures of the all the recovered items to help the burglers' victims lay claim to them.

Captain Lillian Carranza, head of LAPD’s Commercial Crimes Division, said her officers are working with experts from the J Paul Getty Museum to identify and catalogue each item. 

One of the Picasso paintings recovered by the LAPD Credit: Los Angeles Police Department

“We are in the process of identifying the specific art, artists and how much it might be worth,” she said.

The string of burglaries saw hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art work stolen, including one which had a market value of around $60,000 (£49,000) at the time of the theft.

However Capt Carranza said the values of some pieces may have depreciated because they have not been stored correctly.

Head of Leda by Leonardo Da Vinci Credit: LAPD

Capt Carranza did not reveal the name of the auctioneer who tipped off her department but said the artwork had come to the auction house through a relative of one of the original suspects in the case. 

The two suspects were identified as Armenian nationals by police. One of them, Paul Tobeler, was imprisoned in 1996 for several years and has since died. Ms Carranza said police believe he left the stolen artwork to a relative as part of an inheritance.

“Did this individual know they were stolen? Did this individual know they were receiving stolen property? That’s just part of the investigation that we’re not ready to dive into just yet,” she said.

Police have not revealed the identity of the second suspect as their investigation is still ongoing.