'Scream' burglary baffles police

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The Independent Online
OSLO - The theft of one of the world's most famous paintings, The Scream by Edvard Munch, has left the Norwegian police baffled because art experts say it would be impossible to sell.

In the burglary - which took less than a minute and was filmed by video surveillance cameras - two men used a ladder to reach a window at Oslo's National Gallery, smashed the glass, grabbed the painting and disappeared.

Police said they did not know who had taken the 1893 painting of a face wide-mouthed in terror. 'We have no details of anyone specific,' said Sindre Flaate, a police spokesman, yesterday. The thieves have not contacted the gallery.

The daily Dagbladet newspaper said the two men left a note which read: 'Thanks for the poor security.' A woman telephoned the newspaper 40 minutes after the break-in on Saturday and told staff about the burglars' note.

The National Gallery's director, Knut Berg, said he believed the thieves might try to sell the painting back to the museum as it would be impossible to sell on the open market. He added that the gallery might discuss today whether it should offer a reward for the return of the painting, which is not insured as it is owned by the state.

The videotape of the theft, shown on Norwegian television, did not give a clear picture of the two men, but one of them was in such a hurry that he slipped and almost fell off the ladder. The window through which they got in had no bars but was linked to the alarm system, which went off as soon as the glass was broken. A pair of pliers, which were probably used to cut the painting down, were found inside the gallery.

Police said they were searching for a Mercedes estate car which was filmed outside the National Gallery at the time of the theft. 'We took a chance when we moved (the painting) from the more secure first floor to the ground floor in connection with an Olympic exhibition,' said Roy Jameson, the gallery's security chief.

There has been speculation that the theft, which took place on the opening day of the Winter Olympic Games in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer, could be a publicity stunt. 'There are indications that the thieves chose the start of the Olympic Games to make as much fuss as possible,' a police officer said. A third of the country's police force are in the Lillehammer area to provide security during the games.

Several paintings by Munch have been stolen in recent years. The Vampire was stolen in 1988 and a lithograph, Madonna, disappeared in 1990. Both were later recovered. Portrait Study, a picture of a young woman, was stolen from the same gallery last year. It has not been found.