This Day in History (12-Feb- 1994) : Art thieves snatch world’s best-known paintings Scream

On 12-Feb-1994, thieves stole one of the world’s best-known paintings from a gallery in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Two men took just 50 seconds to climb a ladder, smash through a window of the National Art Museum in Oslo and cut The Scream, by Edvard Munch, from the wall with wire cutters. The cutters were left behind along with a short ladder as the men fled with the painting. The entire incident was filmed by security cameras. The painting was priceless and Munch’s most renowned one. Art experts believed that it would be impossible for thieves to sell the Scream on the open market  It was believed to have been uninsured. The painting was in the gallery as the highlight of a Norwegian Culture Festival staged in connection with the Winter Olympics which was starting that day in Lillehammer. There was a speculation that it may have some connection with the Games, possibly as a publicity stunt by campaigners. The museum faced a strong criticism over its security after it was revealed that the masterpiece had been moved from the more secure first floor to the ground floor for the exhibition.

Initially, a radical Norwegian anti-abortion group claimed responsibility for the theft, but police remained sceptical. In March 1994, the gallery received a £700,000 ($1m) ransom demand for the painting. The gallery board refused to pay, unsure that the demand was genuine. Norwegian police contacted London shortly after the theft and the Norwegians worked closely with Chief Inspector John Butler, head of Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques squad.  In May 1994, Norwegian and British police mounted an undercover sting which uncovered the painting, unharmed, in the seaside town outside Oslo where Edvard Munch painted many of his most famous paintings. Two Metropolitan Police officers fooled the thieves by pretending they would buy the painting for £250,000.

In January 1996, four men were convicted and sentenced in connection with the theft. One of the two thieves who carried out the raid, Paal Enger, is now a legitimate art buyer, acquiring his first Munch – an unsigned lithograph – at auction in 2001.




This Day in History (11-Dec-1913) – “Mona Lisa”, stolen from the Louvre Museum in 1911, recovered

On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world, was stolen right off the wall of the Louvre (famous museum in Paris, France). The Louvre was closed for a week to aid the investigation. Police found the plate of glass which was placed on the painting and Mona Lisa’s frame lying in a staircase. But investigation headed nowhere.

In the Autumn of 1913, a well-known antique dealer, Alfredo Geri, innocently placed an ad in several Italian newspapers which stated that he was “a buyer at good prices of art objects.” Soon after he placed the ad, Geri received a letter dated November 29 (1913), that stated the writer was in possession of the stolen Mona Lisa. The letter had a post office box in Paris as a return address and had been signed only as “Leonardo.” Geri contacted Commendatore Giovanni Poggi, museum director of the Uffizi (museum in Florence, Italy). Geri replied showing interest. Another letter came almost immediately asking Geri to go to Paris to see the painting. Geri replied, stating that he could not go to Paris, but, instead, arranged for “Leonardo” to meet him in Milan.

On December 10, 1913, an Italian man appeared stating he was Leonardo Vincenzo and that he had the Mona Lisa back in his hotel room. Leonardo explained that he had stolen the painting in order to restore to Italy what had been stolen from it by Napoleon. Thus, Leonardo made the stipulation that the Mona Lisa was to be hung at the Uffizi and never given back to France. Upon his leaving, Geri contacted the police and the Uffizi. The following day, Geri and Poggi (the museum director) appeared at Leonardo’s hotel room. Leonardo pulled out a wooden trunk. After opening the trunk, Leonardo pulled out a pair of underwear, some old shoes, and a shirt. Then Leonardo removed a false bottom — and there lay the Mona Lisa. The museum director said that he would need to compare the painting with other works by Leonardo da Vinci. They then walked out with the painting. Leonardo Vincenzo, whose real name was Vincenzo Peruggia, was arrested. Peruggia hadn’t had a plan to dispose of the painting; his only goal was to return it to Italy. The painting was displayed throughout Italy before it was returned to France on December 30, 1913.


This Day in History (5-Nov-1925) – Sidney Reilly, alleged “super-spy” and inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories, is executed by Soviet

Born the illegitimate son of a Jewish doctor in Odessa, Sigmund Rosenblum studied chemistry in Vienna before going to Brazil. There he befriended British Army officers in the Amazon and was recommended to British intelligence in London. He changed his name to Sidney George Reilly in 1899. Attached to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, he allegedly over the years reported on Russian oil developments at Baku, the progress of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Dutch aid to the South African Boers (1899), oil developments in Persia (1902), and Russian naval fortifications in Port Arthur, Manchuria. In 1905, as the story goes, he disguised himself as a priest on the French Riviera and inveigled the Persian oil-concession holder, William Knox D’Arcy, into selling oil concessions to Britain against fierce French competition, greatly benefiting Britain’s future energy supplies.

As manager of a German shipbuilder’s agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, he seems to have gained access to details of Germany’s five-year naval-development plan, which he reported to London over a three-year period prior to the outbreak of World War I. In New York City from 1914, he bought munitions and helped counter German sabotage of American factories supplying the Allies. Returning to Europe, he made frequent missions behind the German lines, on one occasion (by his own account) attending a General Staff meeting in the presence of Kaiser William II. In May 1918 Reilly went to Moscow, intent on toppling the Bolshevik regime, but his plans were betrayed, and he had to flee. He is thought to have made a series of other trips to Russia, and in September 1925 he crossed the Russian frontier once more, but he was arrested and reportedly executed. Reilly was summarized as a pathological liar, cold-blooded killer, ice-cold conman, disloyal and recalcitrant spy, shameless opportunist, arms dealer, war-profiteer and a relentless womanizer.

Ian Fleming was a great admirer of Sidney Reilly, and several sources claim that Reilly was Flemings model for James Bond. Similarities are uncanny because of Reilly’s audacious real-life exploits, recalcitrant behaviour, mastery over women, fondness for gambling and the good life.



This Day in History (18-Oct-2004) – Indian bandit and smuggler Veerappan was killed

As a child, Veerappan looked up to Mammattiyan, a bandit from Tamil Nadu’s Salem district who was killed in an inter-gang fight. Veerappan took to a life of poaching and tree-felling when he was 12 years old, and was initiated into killing elephants and sandalwood-smuggling by a relative, a smuggler himself. It is believed that Veerappan announced his entry into violent crime by murdering Mammattiyan’s brother. In 1965 the forest officials arrested him for killing an elephant but he escaped, one of the first such escapes in his long life of crime. At one time he was arrested from Bangalore in 1986, but he again escaped from the clutches of police. Alonwith several forest officers, his victims included the Karnataka Deputy Conservator of Forests, Srinivasan, in 1991, and the Karnataka Superintendent of Police, Harikrishnan, in 1992. Following a landmine attack on the police near Mettur town in Salem district, a Special Task Force was constituted to deal with Veerappan in 1993. In 1997, he kidnapped nine forest officials in the Burude forests.

In 2000, Veerappan abducted Kannada film icon Rajkumar from the actor’s ancestral farmhouse at Gajanur. After the Rajkumar saga, the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments revived the Special Task Force (STF) operations against Veerappan. Veerappan also kidnapped former minister H. Nagappa, whose body was later found in the forest. After K. Vijay Kumar took over as head of the STF in October 2003, a covert operation was planned to trap Veerappan. Members of the team, posing as petty traders, contract workers, drivers and conductors, mixed with villagers in the area, some even managing to infiltrate Veerappan’s gang.  An STF mole in the gang is said to have arranged an ambulance to take an unsuspecting Veerappan for treatment. The ambulance would, of course, be driven by a cop in disguise. On 18 October 2004, the STF plan worked according to script. The vehicle was ambushed and Veerappan and his three aides killed, a triumphant STF later said. Veerappan carried a Rs 50-lakh reward on his head for murder, poaching and smuggling sandalwood. His ivory haul is estimated at 88,000 pounds. It was perhaps the longest ever manhunt in India, that cost the nation over 130 police personnel and Rs 1,000 crore.



This Day in History (15-Sep-1923) – Gov Walton of Oklahoma declares state of siege because of KKK terror

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), or just the Klan is the name of three distinct movements in the United States. Six well-educated Confederate veterans from Pulaski, Tennessee created the original Ku Klux Klan in 1865, during the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. The name was formed by combining the Greek kyklos (κύκλος, circle) with clan. They played a violent role against African Americans in the South during the Reconstruction Era of the 1860s.

Nearly 50 years later, in 1915, “Colonel” William Joseph Simmons, revived the Klan after seeing D. W. Griffith’s film Birth of A Nation, which portrayed the Klansmen as great heroes. In his first official act, he climbed to the top of a local mountain and set a cross on fire to mark the rebirth of the Klan. In its second incarnation, the Klan broadened its message of hate to include Catholics, Jews and foreigners along with blacks. The Klan promoted fundamentalism and devout patriotism along with advocating white supremacy. Appealing to folks uncomfortable with the shifting nature of America from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial nation, the Klan attacked the elite, urbanites and intellectuals. Their message struck a cord, and membership in the Klan ballooned in the 1920s. By the middle of the decade, estimates for national membership in this secret organization ranged from three million to as high as eight million Klansmen. And membership was not limited to the poor and uneducated on society’s fringes. Mainstream, middle-class Americans donned the white robes of the Klan too. Doctors, lawyers and ministers became loyal supporters of the KKK. The Klan devised a strategy called the “decade,” in which every member of the Klan was responsible for recruiting ten people to vote for Klan candidates in elections.

The current manifestation consists of numerous small unconnected groups that use the KKK name. They have all emphasized secrecy and distinctive costumes, and all have called for purification of American society, and all are considered right-wing. The current manifestation is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is estimated to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members as of 2012.



This Day in History (31-Aug-1888) – Mary Ann Nichols is Found Dead in Whitechapel, London, Launching the Legend of Jack the Ripper

One of the world’s most famous unsolved mysteries began early in the morning of Friday, August 31, 1888: at 3:40am, Charles Cross drove his cart down Buck’s Row and noticed a body.  Mary Ann Nichols, a short prostitute with a drinking problem, had been stabbed to death.  With no leads and no witnesses, police were now on the hunt for a ghost that would later get the name Jack the Ripper.  The first of five gruesome killings between 31-Aug and 9-Nov, attached to the notorious murderer, Nichols had been seen alive a little more than an hour before. Jack the Ripper is the best-known name given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888.  The name originated in a letter, written by someone claiming to be the murderer, that was disseminated in the media. The letter is widely believed to have been a hoax, and may have been written by a journalist in a deliberate attempt to heighten interest in the story. The newspapers of the day gave a huge amount of coverage to this crimes and provided their readers with daily updates on them with the result that Jack the Ripper effectively became a menacing media figure.

The canonical five victims were linked together in a letter written by the police surgeon Thomas Bond to Robert Anderson, head of the London CID, on 10 November 1888. An investigation into a series of brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888, but the legend of Jack the Ripper solidified. Despite the fact that no-one was ever brought to justice or charged with the crimes, there have, over the years, been more than a hundred named suspects who may or may not have been Jack the Ripper.

As the murders were never solved, the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. The term “ripperology” was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper’s identity, and the murders have inspired multiple works of fiction.



This Day in History (30-Aug-1773) – Peshwa Narayanrao was murdered by his uncle Raghunath Rao

On the death of Madhavrao Peshwa in November 1772, having no son, was succeeded by his 17 year old brother Narayanrao. Narayanrao found himself completely under the sway of his mother Gopikabai. Soon differences started arising between Narayanraos mother Gopikabai and Anandibai, the wife of Raghunathrao (Narayanrao’s uncle). Raghunathrao for his treacherous ways was captured and imprisoned. However on Gopikabais instructions, Narayanrao turned Raghunathraos imprisonment into a house arrest at Shanivarwada. The women of the Peshwa household especially Gopikabai, used to perform a lot of daily religious rituals and spent huge amounts of money in giving away alms to the Brahmins. This hampered the treasury leading to non payment of the soldiers and other employees. There was discontent amongst many including the ‘Gardis’ a community who were the traditional bodyguards of the Peshwas. Raghunathrao sent them overtures promising them higher payscales.

Raghunathrao sent the chief of the Gardis a letter stating that he would intervene and settle the pay dispute. But for the same, Narayanrao should be seized (‘dharaa’ in Marathi) and be produced before him. But as the legend of the bakhar goes, the letter was forged by Anandibai , who changed the letter ‘dha’ to ‘ma’ making word ‘maara’, meaning ‘to kill’ ( धरा चा मारा ), or as is popularly known ( ध चा मा). On the fatefull night of 30th August 1773, the Gardis swarmed in Shanivarwada, hacking down anyone who came in their way. Two of Narayanraos servants by the names of Chaphaji Tilekar and Naroba Phatak who tried to shield the Peshwa were hacked down. The panicky Peshwa Narayanrao then fled to his uncle’s quarters and implored him to save him (काका मला वाचवा). But it was all in vain, for the Gardis (Sumersingh, Kharaksingh, Mohommed Yusuf and Tuloji Pawar a servant of Raghunathrao) wasted no moment in striking down the young Peshwa. His body was secretly taken away through the Narayan gate of Shanivar wada and cremated near Lakdi pul, where his samadhi exists.