Who was the clever thief who snatched Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961?
He was well-read, if not learned, too clever by half, and clearly talented in the burglar’s arts. Hirsch (Chair, Justice and Law Studies Program/Williams Coll.) felt the deed and the perpetrator needed further investigation. The man who confessed, Kempton Bunton, was an elderly, unpublished author who had a difficult time maintaining any sort of employment. The author explores a host of questions that had puzzled London police, as well as some that didn’t occur to them. Why did the theft take place on Aug. 22, 1961, exactly 50 years after the Mona Lisa went missing from the Louvre? How could an older, overweight man possibly have entered the museum through a lavatory window after scaling walls topped with barbed wire? Why did he say he got in between 4 and 5 a.m. when the loss was first noticed at 10 p.m.? This story has all the potential of a great mystery and a thrilling crime story. Hirsch was the first to get his hands on an autobiography Bunton wrote just a few years after the fact, in which he explained how he stole the painting, stored it, wrote a series of letters trying to collect ransom, and eventually returned it. He turned himself in, claiming that, as he had no criminal intent and no intention of permanently keeping the painting, he could not be found guilty. Unfortunately, here the author’s legal side takes over the narrative. The details of the investigation, the trial with interminable prosecutorial repetition of questions, examining every aspect over and over, and the judge’s clear disbelief take a fun tale and drag it out. The author may have solved the case in the end, but by that time, interest is pretty well lost.
A great subject overwhelmed by legal minutiae.