The largest art heist in Canadian history has remained unsolved for 50 years.
Paul Haber, producer
Former Montreal TV station reporter Bob Benedetti couldn’t pass up the opportunity, “No one’s ever done something like this before,” he said.
When it comes to big stories, Benedetti has been there. His most widely read story is about alligators in the sewers of Montreal. This event made headlines around the world in 1972, one year into his job as a reporter for CFCF (a CTV affiliate).
When Benedetti received a phone call at 8:30 am on September 4, 1972, he wasn’t expecting it to change his life. But as soon as he arrived at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, Canada’s oldest art museum and the perpetrator had struck before him.
At the time, Benedetti never realized that the crime he was investigating would turn out to be Canada’s biggest heist. For years the police continued working on this mystery and it is still unsolved today.
In the 1930s, two million dollars worth of paintings sounded like a lot. But what really shocked Benedetti was how thieves were able to pull off a heist like that.
James mentioned that a certain scene with thieves that broke and entered went straight out of a novel.
Three thieves gained access to the museum roof by accessing a skylight that was under repair and only covered with a plastic sheet. Like spies from a Hollywood movie, they lowered a rope and slid down undetected onto the museum floor. Once inside, they encountered little resistance. One shotgun blast was enough to subdue the guards.
Thieves came in, systematically tore paintings from the walls, and stole many of the most valuable ones. They took paintings by Delacroix, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Millet, Rubens, and Rembrandt.
In 1972, the rules for roaming reporters were much looser. In fact, Benedetti was able to walk right up to the ladder left behind by the thieves and climb it in order to record a stand-up. CTV has footage of their younger journalist going boldly into the middle of a crime scene in order to capture a piece of evidence for his broadcast.
In 1972, Bob Beneditti was able to walk up to the ladder left by the art thieves and climb it to record a stand up.
“I could tell from my vantage point that the crime scene was no joke. I had seen this scene before, and there was nothing funny about it now,” Benedetti said. “Unlike today, where flashing police lights and yellow crime tape would have surrounded the scene, there was none of that back then.”
Something that very rarely happens in modern day.
He remembers, “There was a certain trust and camaraderie that we were doing the same kind of job. We were trying to find out who did what and they were trying to find out who did what.”
Police investigators were stumped. “I don’t remember them ever having a real suspect in these cases,” said Benedetti. “You know, a lot of these cases they used to have somebody they knew did it, but they just couldn’t prove it. But in this case, they had no idea. Perhaps that’s because there weren’t professional art thieves roaming around.”
When asked about the museum robberies, Benedetti said, “You know? People didn’t rob museums. They robbed banks!” In the 1960s, Toronto was nicknamed the “Bank Robbery Capital of Canada” due to its high rates of bank robberies.
Bob Benedetti is an award-winning former journalist with a 35-year career. He’s worked as a journalist, newscaster and producer, despite being anchored by the “mediocre.”
Other reports of the robbery stated that it was a local crew who got really lucky over the weekend and managed to take advantage of the chaos.
The 50th anniversary of one of the most significant art heists in Canadian history has come and gone, but unfortunately, no sign of the missing artwork. Montreal police told W5 that the case is now “closed”.
They also said that “If new information came forward, we would verify it and if it was serious enough, we would reopen the case.”