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 (5-May-1905) – The Stratton Brothers Case, the first to use fingerprint evidence in rendering a murder conviction, opens in London

On the morning of 27th March 1905 in Deptford, 16-year-old William Jones visited the paint shop of Thomas Farrow, 71, and his wife Ann, 65, but found the shop closed. Police were called who discovered the beaten dead body of Mr Farrow in a pool of blood and the unconscious body of his wife who eventually died.

An empty cash box was found on the floor of the dishevelled flat, suggesting a burglary had occurred. The cash box was examined and a greasy fingerprint found on the inside. The box was carefully collected and transported to Scotland Yard’s Fingerprinting Bureau. The print was compared with those of the two victims, the officers at the crime scene, and the 80,000+ sets of prints kept on file by the Bureau, but no match was found.

Investigation led to Alfred Stratton and his brother Albert. The brothers were arrested and their fingerprints taken. When police compared the collected prints with the crime scene thumb print, it was a clear match to Alfred. However the fingerprinting technique was still untrusted by the public and so the jury, particularly problematic with the fingerprint being the only solid piece of evidence linking the brothers to the crime scene.

In the court Detective Inspector Collins spoke as an expert witness, explaining how fingerprinting worked and informing the jury that of the 800,000+ individual digit impressions held on file by Scotland Yard, he had never found two impressions to appear the same. He produced enlarged images of the thumbprints and identified the points of similarities. This was enough to convince a jury, and in May 1905, the two brothers were charged with murder and hanged.


This Day in History (16-Mar-1830) – London’s re-organised police force (Scotland Yard)

Scotland Yard (officially New Scotland Yard) is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service, the territorial police force responsible for policing most of London. In 1829, home secretary Sir Robert Peel, by an Metropolitan Police Act introduced in Parliament, set up the first disciplined police force for the Greater London area. As a result of Peel’s efforts, the London police force became known as Bobby’s boys and later simply as bobbies.

The task of organising and designing the “New Police” was placed in the hands of Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. These two Commissioners occupied a private house at 4, Whitehall Place, the back of which opened on to a courtyard. The courtyard was used as a police station. The location had been the site of a residence owned by the Kings of Scotland before the Union and used and occupied by them and/or their ambassadors when in London, and known as ‘”Scotland”. The courtyard was later used by Sir Christopher Wren and known as “Scotland Yard”.  It was this address that led to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police being known as Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became the public entrance to the police station, and over time the street and the Metropolitan Police became synonymous.  Scotland Yard became the name for police activity in London though the headquarters is no more at the same location.

Although Scotland Yard’s responsibility is limited to metropolitan London, its assistance is often sought by police in other parts of England, particularly with regard to difficult cases. Some of its most infamous cases handled by Scotland Yard ranges from Jack the Ripper in 1888 to the 2005 London bombings. Scotland Yard has become internationally famous as a symbol of policing, and detectives from Scotland Yard feature in many works of crime fiction. They were frequent allies, and sometimes antagonists, of Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous stories. It is also referred to in Around the World in Eighty Days. Many novelists have adopted fictional Scotland Yard detectives as the heroes or heroines of their stories. In the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming mentions a recurring fictional character who works for Scotland Yard.