Correction: The News-Leader removed a reference made in an earlier version of this report to a set of interior gallery doors that had not been installed at Springfield Art Museum in 2016.
By 1985, when the Springfield Art Museum received a donation of 10 Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup screenprints, the artist himself was more interested in making TV shows and movies than Pop prints and paintings.
If someone made a movie about the night seven of those screenprints were stolen, the establishing shots would be all about routine.
The museum boasted multiple levels of security: Guards. Locks. Alarms. Video.
At the time of the 2016 theft, staff had begun updating the emergency plan for the first time in years.
In the early hours of April 7, the museum’s alarms were active. Video surveillance captured the darkened, quiet galleries. At closing time, a guard checked the museum’s locks.
Roger Hall usually had that task. A security guard since 1981, he had worked at the art museum since 2002.
Hall and a colleague, former Chicago Police Department officer Martin Daniels, who was hired in 2015, patrolled the museum and its grounds during open hours. They had help from part-time guards.
After dark, the museum was not patrolled by guards, but secured by the locks, the video, the alarms.
The alarms were monitored by a company that had been under contract for many years, Atlas Security.
Four months after the prints were stolen, the city’s insurance company sent investigators from New York City to Springfield. They wanted to understand what happened, to determine whether the insurer should pay a claim for the Warhol loss, and if so, how much.
Hall told the insurance company he was usually the last employee to leave at night, and the last to get there each morning.
He and his fellow security guard were two of four museum employees interviewed by lawyers for the insurance company. The others were the museum director, Nick Nelson, and the curator of art, Sarah Buhr.
The insurance company’s investigation is separate from investigations by law enforcement. Sworn statements made by museum staff, and accompanying documents, were reviewed by the News-Leader after the city released the documents late last year in response to a Sunshine Law request.
5 key takeaways: What the News-Leader’s review of the Andy Warhol thefts shows
Citing exemptions in the law, the city redacted parts of the insurance interview transcripts because they discussed security matters, an investigative report and human-resources issues.
The city released one version of the statements Nov. 27, with heavy redactions. After a Jan. 24 interview by the News-Leader with the museum director and the city’s chief public information officer, city officials chose to release the statements a second time, with many fewer redactions: 88 pages were updated, out of more than 280 pages in the document bundle.
In a Jan. 28 email, City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader said, “City staff in conjunction with the police department determined that some of the information initially deemed likely to jeopardize a criminal investigation could be released.”
Even partly redacted, the transcripts reveal a close-up view of what happened in the hours before and after the Warhol theft.
On April 7, 2016, the day the theft was discovered, Hall rolled in at 8:30 a.m. The museum opened to the public a half-hour later.
Buhr, the curator, was already at work. She joined the museum 11 years ago and was responsible for dreaming up, researching and implementing new exhibits.
Exhibits, often incorporating art on loan as well as pieces from Springfield’s collection, make up the core of the art museum’s mission: to preserve beautiful and significant objects forever, while showing them off in ways that inspire and deliver knowledge to as many people in the community as possible.
To do this work, Buhr starts her day early. She told the investigators she usually gets to her desk at 7:30 a.m.
An hour later, she went to a regular staff meeting. The museum’s fifth director, Nelson, presided. There was a daily to-do list, and the team went over it — all the while unaware, Hall told the investigators, that seven of the Warhols were gone.
The curators, the education staff, the communications officer and the security guards were all in the meeting. Only Luz Melendez, the receptionist, was not present.
Melendez had to stay out front, due to a big event going on that day.
Louise Knauer, chief operating officer of Community Foundation of the Ozarks, said she and 100 other people from Springfield’s nonprofit world came to the museum that morning to use the auditorium for a training session. They were getting ready for that year’s Give Ozarks, an online fundraising drive.
The museum has been accommodating more and more big events in recent years, the idea being to bring new people through the doors.
The strategy has been bearing fruit. The visitor number has climbed 75 percent since 2012, when Nelson started as director. In 2016, the taxpayer-funded museum was on track to see some 52,000 people come through the doors. Attendance currently stands at more than 60,000 people per year and continues to grow.
Knauer can’t remember the exact time she got to the museum that morning for the training. She said it was before opening hour, because she and her crew had to come early to set up a check-in table in the museum lobby.
The scene of the crime was not far away. From the lobby, a long hallway known as the King Gallery takes visitors to the center of the museum campus. At the east end of the hallway, a glass wall with double doors fronts a courtyard built in 1960, two years after the art museum’s Original Wing was completed.
The courtyard is open to the sky and has a gleaming, leaf-shaped fountain. Through a metal gate that’s padlocked overnight, the space opens to the outside. There’s a sidewalk, a narrow concrete bridge that jumps the Phelps Grove creek, then the street.
As visitors go from lobby to courtyard, they pass three sets of big doors on the south side of the hallway. These lead to three more galleries, all added in 2008.
The middle room, called the Spratlen Gallery, was where the soup cans hung — from nails, rather than more expensive secure-hanger technology sometimes used.
Springfield’s “Campbell’s Soup 1” set hadn’t been seen since 2006, but curator Buhr put the soup cans in “The Electric Garden of our Minds,” a dazzling show of American and British pop art.
The 2016 show also included a treat from the museum’s vaults: prints by the Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi, considered the father of British pop art.
A private collector gave the Paolozzis to the museum in 1981, four years before The Greenberg Gallery in St. Louis donated the Warhol prints.
But for 35 years, the Paolozzis, colorful and intellectual in a way that contrasted with the Warhols’ embrace of pure commercial imagery, had never been shown to the public that owned them.
They had recently been rediscovered in the museum’s vaults, which did not have what its director called a “good inventory” until 2015, according to one of the sworn statements he made to insurance investigators.
“We get asked that a lot,” Nelson said when he was interviewed by an investigator a few days after the theft. “Has this ever been shown? ‘Cause we have a bit of a reputation for holding art and never exhibiting it. So we try to say, well, yeah, we, you know, we’re bringing this out of the vault to show you.”
Nelson was not the first Springfield museum director to work on storage and inventory. His predecessor, a Vietnam veteran from Wyoming named Jerry Berger, added more and better storage space in 1994, when the Jeanette L. Musgrave Wing went up on the east side of the building.
The addition cost at least $2 million in today’s dollars, the News-Leader reported at the time, including today’s equivalent of $170,000 for special storage racks needed to keep wall art safely. Much of the funding came from private sources.
Nelson later described the resource-intensive challenge of museum inventory in this way: “Imagine if I gave you 10,000 M&Ms and said I’m going to come back in 10 years, and you need to know where all the M&Ms are, and I want them to be in the same condition they were when I gave them to you 10 years ago.”
Since Nelson took over as director in 2012, museum officials had installed new software to track Springfield’s collection of roughly 10,000 art objects. The application, PastPerfect, allowed the museum to publish an online catalog for the first time, something commonplace at big urban museums.
But conservation of the art had always been good, in Nelson’s view. And everything was guarded, under lock and key, and the building had alarms.
In spring 2016, those weren’t issues that members of the public were thinking about.
As she got ready for the Give Ozarks event, for example, Knauer didn’t get anywhere near a Warhol. She was busy, and the galleries were closed during her set-up time.
She helped send nonprofit communications people to the museum’s 392-seat auditorium, a mid-’70s legacy of the museum’s second director. He had also been trying to get new people through the museum doors.
And in another room, the museum staff meeting was going on. It took about 15 to 20 minutes, Hall told the investigators.
Less expensive than ‘kid painter’ work
Very soon after the meeting, museum staff discovered seven of Springfield’s Warhols had been stolen.
The theft made news across the world, largely due to the enduring power of Warhol’s name, three decades after his death on Feb. 22, 1987.
Even rarefied Warhol experts had something to say about Springfield.
In the days after the theft, a Warhol biographer in New York, Blake Gopnik, cranked out a hot take.
On Artnet News, Gopnik noted that the value of the Springfield screenprints was relatively minor. He pegged them as worth $30,000 each, at most $500,000 for the set. (Ultimately, Springfield’s insurance payment totaled $750,000.)
“They cost less than you might pay for a piece of zombie abstraction by some kid painter fresh out of grad school,” Gopnik sniffed.
In part, that’s because in 1968, Warhol ordered 250 sets from the printer. Many of the fragile prints have deteriorated over time. Only about 50 sets of “Campbell’s Soup 1” remain complete and in good condition, a Los Angeles Warhol gallery owner told the New York Times five days after the theft. Springfield owned Set 31.
In contrast, the polymer-on-canvas paintings of “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans” that Warhol created in the early ’60s were one-of-a-kind and far more valuable. Each of the 32 paintings, Gopnik wrote, might fetch “something like $10 million” on the art market.
The later prints were a less costly kind of art more within the reach of a museum like Springfield’s.
Since 1947, acquiring prints had been a strategy to broaden Springfield’s art collection. Donors, like the Greenberg family in St. Louis, might be persuaded to part with them — and Berger, the former director, was famously good at cultivating donors — especially if they were part of a big print run, like the Warhols.
The museum still has a hankering for prints. Last year, it added a late-period Picasso linocut portraying a woman in profile. A similar one sold at Sotheby’s in London for $29,000.
‘You could see it all play out’
It was about 8:50 a.m. when the staff meeting broke up. Just before the museum’s 9 a.m. opening, security guard Hall went to the front desk to watch video feeds from the galleries.
Pretty soon, Hall saw something missing. Where there should have been 10 Warhol soup can prints hanging, there were now only three: “Consommé (Beef),” “Pepper Pot” and “Cream of Mushroom.”
“I noticed the blank spot on the wall,” Hall later told the insurance company lawyer, “and I was the first one to notice that.”
“So you notice that something is seriously wrong, or potentially seriously wrong,” the lawyer replied.
The attorney’s name was Dennis Wade. His New York law firm is located a few blocks from the rebuilt World Trade Center. Four months after the theft, insurance company StarNet sent him to Missouri to interview museum officials about the Warhol theft.
In a conference room at a downtown Springfield law firm, he questioned Hall and another security guard, Daniels, along with director Nelson and curator Buhr. The city sent one of its staff attorneys and a private lawyer with the museum employees.
“Because where once there were soup cans,” Wade asked, “there are no soup cans, correct?”
“Correct,” answered Hall, according to the transcript of his statement.
Not long after Hall saw the blank spot on the wall in the video feed, his fellow guard Daniels approached him at their perch in the lobby.
“I think there’s something suspicious down here at the courtyard door,” Daniels told Hall.
Daniels later told investigators that he had noticed a “Do Not Enter” sign placed between the two glass doors leading to the courtyard.
The two walked down the King Gallery to the glass doors. Together, they made a second discovery.
“We looked at the door,” Hall told the insurance company lawyer. “And there seemed to be a piece of Cyprus (sic) mulch-type stuff stuck inside of the hole in the lock, so I went straight to (museum director Nelson) and reported that to him, and he came and looked at it, and he asked me to go and call (Atlas Security, the museum’s alarm company) to see if they had gotten any sort of alarms in that area the previous night.”
Later, Nelson told the insurance company that it appeared that the door had been tampered with “during open hours and people came back afterwards.”
To anyone checking from the interior, the door appeared locked.
“But when you came on the exterior and you really yanked it, it just came right open,” Nelson later said.
After Hall and Daniels discovered the mulch, Hall called Atlas.
“I was on the line with them for quite a while, while they checked that out,” Hall told the investigators.
Atlas told Hall that there had been alarm activity the night before. Three successive alarm pings went off, according to the interview transcripts, although the redactions leave it unclear what type of alarms they were.
“I believe they told me that was around 12:20 or so in the morning,” Hall told investigators.
While Hall was on the phone with Atlas, Cindy Quayle, exhibitions manager at the museum since 2008, approached him.
Hall asked Quayle why some of the Campbell’s Soup cans had been taken down.
She answered that they had not been taken down.
“That was when I realized we’d had a robbery,” Hall told investigators. It was just before 10 a.m. The museum had been open for almost an hour.
Hall got off the phone with Atlas. He and Daniels went to Nelson.
“I was in a meeting,” Nelson told investigator Andy Quested on April 11, 2016, four days after the theft was discovered.
Originally from England, Quested is an insurance adjuster who once worked for Lloyd’s of London. Based in the New York City area, he has experience in jewelry and fine arts insurance and in claims resulting from the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The security guards came in and said, “Hey, we need to talk to you about something, an incident,” Nelson continued. “I mean, that’s when I went out.”
After Hall and Daniels told the museum director of their suspicions about the courtyard door, staff “immediately” went into museum procedures for missing or stolen art.
Nelson said they “closed the gallery, moved everybody out, secured the door, all that.”
Nelson told Hall to call the police. The call came in at 10:03 a.m., according to the police report.
Nelson then went to Buhr, the curator. Together, they went out to the galleries.
“We were still open,” Buhr told investigators. “So I asked the guards to help me close the galleries so that the area would be devoid of people, and then we sort of stood around waiting for the police to come.”
Buhr said she talked to one of the security guards, Daniels, as they stood in a gallery doorway. She asked why the police hadn’t responded overnight, at the time of the theft, and why staff hadn’t been called. Later, she asked Nelson.
“I asked that question that day and I was never really given a clear answer as to why they did not come,” she told investigators.
Nelson told her, “I’m not quite sure what happened yet.”
“Things were still happening,” Buhr later said.
It was a busy morning. A hundred nonprofit workers had streamed through the lobby for their training session. One of them, the executive director of Missouri Safe & Sober, tweeted a photo from inside the auditorium at 10:10 a.m. She told the News-Leader she can’t remember noticing anything amiss that morning.
Knauer, COO of the group that put on the training, doesn’t recall much more, nor did two other nonprofit workers where were there.
“As we were getting ready to wrap up,” Knauer said Feb. 11, “I noticed a heightened sense of distraction, maybe. Like the museum folks were getting called away, or kind of having to divert their attention.”
“We had no clue as to what was going on,” Knauer added. “We got done around noon, left, and later when that news broke, it was like, oh my god, we were there.”
So why did confusion reign the morning after the theft?
“I don’t know how people didn’t see (the Warhols) missing,” Nelson said four days after the theft. “Or maybe they saw them missing and didn’t — and thought maybe somebody had them or… Anyway, there was a failure there. As soon as we saw them missing (the next few words of the transcript were redacted by city officials) it should have been initiated, that response.”
Referring to security footage, Nelson added, “You could see it all play out. You could see security guards coming together talking, exhibition manager coming and talking to the security guards, them walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, then finally I come out and then I go get the curator, then we come back and then you see a bunch of visitors moving out of the gallery.”
What wasn’t yet clear was why neither Nelson nor police got a call from the alarm company when the break-in occurred.
That, it turns out, was a self-inflicted mistake.
‘What the heck happened’
A lot of things have changed at the museum since the theft.
In the wake of the Warhol incident, the museum board — appointed by Springfield’s city manager — went into at least two closed sessions to discuss security upgrades. They bought new technology, the nature of which has not been made public because the city does not want to compromise its own deterrents.
The museum hired more guards as well as new gallery attendants.
In 2018, after decades of discussing and sometimes pursuing the goal, Springfield’s art museum also achieved accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. Security standards are part of the requirements. Only about 3 percent of U.S. museums are accredited.
Nelson, in an interview with the News-Leader, used the phrase “robust system” three times to describe the museum’s current security setup.
But three years ago, that journey still lay ahead of the museum’s staff and its city oversight board.
Because that morning, everyone was still trying to figure out what the heck happened.
When he learned of the theft, Nelson asked staff to check the galleries and the vaults. According to the insurance company transcripts, each area of the vaults contains a sheet listing all the artwork stored in that area, allowing for a quick visual check.
Staff soon found that no other art had been stolen.
A half-hour after a security guard called police, he called police again. But an officer didn’t arrive at the museum until 12:51 p.m., almost three hours after the initial call, according to police records.
Police officials say they prioritized the art museum theft as they would any other crime. It was a commercial burglary that had already happened, so it was Priority 3, less urgent than a violent crime in progress.
Springfield Art Museum had joined a club of burglarized museums as varied as the Louvre (the “Mona Lisa” was stolen in 1911, then recovered a couple of years later) to the Ralph Foster Museum at College of the Ozarks (which experienced theft of a set of 76 Japanese coins in 1980 that, according to News-Leader archives, were valued at the equivalent of $3 million in today’s money).
The criminal investigation began, which would involve Springfield police, the FBI and an alert to Interpol.
Officer Steven Layton’s police report, printed late on April 8, 2016, is mostly redacted, but it lists property involved in the crime, including the stolen art.
Police took impression castings of pry marks on the courtyard door.
They took into evidence the emergency exit sign that had been stuck between the doors, and the wood chip inside the courtyard door’s striker plate. Investigators also found scratches on the door, according to the guards’ statements.
Police also took a white sticker and a latent print of some kind. The redacted police report doesn’t make clear whether it was a fingerprint or some other type of impression.
They also started trying to figure out why they weren’t alerted until many hours after the theft happened.
The narrative of the crime itself, as far as it can be gleaned from sworn statements the museum gave to the insurance company, began to emerge.
At some point overnight, late on April 6 or early on April 7, the “bad guys,” as the insurance company lawyer described them, showed up at the museum.
The museum director and the city spokeswoman told the News-Leader that the surveillance video was too dark to determine whether just one person, or more, committed the theft.
Whoever did it, they appear to have “somehow vaulted or otherwise got over the wrought-iron fence just outside the courtyard,” in the words of the insurance company lawyer.
Then they went to the courtyard door, likely pried it open, went through the King Gallery, then entered the Spratlen Gallery, with the Warhols inside.
The wood chip and the emergency exit sign likely kept the courtyard door open while they nabbed the seven prints, making multiple trips, according to statements by Nelson.
They likely passed the skinny framed Warhols through the bars of the metal gate, which are only a few inches apart.
They were only inside the museum four minutes, from entrance to exit, according to the museum director and the city’s chief public information officer, who confirmed that information for the first time in late January.
Also for the first time, officials acknowledged that an alarm did sound during the theft. But neither police nor museum officials were alerted.
“It did go off when they came in,” security guard Daniels told the insurance investigators.
“So why didn’t the police come?” the lawyer asked. “Why didn’t the museum get called?”
The 20-year Chicago police veteran answered, “I don’t know. I’ve asked that question to myself because every burglar alarm I’ve ever been to, police came and somebody came. I know I went to hundreds of them.”
He asked about it the day the theft was discovered, but nobody could give him a clear answer. Later, Daniels learned about a “code” placed on the art museum’s file with Atlas Security.
Other staff learned about it, too.
Buhr, the curator, told investigators, “I was later told that there was some sort of fault in the alarm system. That there was some weird code on one of the doors.”
That afternoon, Nelson and Springfield police called Atlas Security on speakerphone to go over a long printout detailing alarm activity.
The insurance company lawyer described it as the “what the heck happened” call.
A ‘standing order’ about the alarm
City officials are willing to talk about that “weird code,” but only in general terms, and the parts of the five sworn statements that discuss the code are often redacted.
The code was a note placed by Atlas Security on the museum’s account file more than a year before the Warhol theft. Nelson called it “a standing order with the alarm company” that he gave about how to handle alarms, and when to contact him and the police.
The museum made the instructions while handling a case of “numerous false alarms” in February 2015.
Over several days — Nelson couldn’t recall whether it was a week or a weekend — Nelson got calls from the alarm company at odd hours, sending him to the museum in the middle of the night.
“I don’t recall what piece of equipment it was, that malfunctioned,” Nelson said in a partly redacted portion of one of his sworn statements.
The equipment failure, he later told the News-Leader, was “sending in a report of activity at the museum” when the museum was closed and possibly at other times.
“It was just unreliability,” said Cora Scott, the city public information officer.
So Nelson put in a service call to the alarm company.
“We were going to have work done on it,” he said. “As we were working through this, correcting the system and making these repairs, at one point there was a notation made to — if those alarms didn’t meet a certain …”
“If X, Y, and Z didn’t happen,” interjected Scott.
“Then to not dispatch,” Nelson resumed. “’Cause it would be safe to assume it was an incorrect alarm, or an alarm that was not a legitimate incident. For whatever reason, that notation was not removed from the account after the problem had been solved. Again, I don’t recall why or how that mistake happened.”
He added, “If you fast forward to the (Warhol) incident because of some other issues with the way the alarm was set up at the time, the, those qualifications weren’t met and there was no dispatch.”
When Nelson learned about the note’s role on the night of the theft, he “immediately nullified” it, he told investigators.
The insurance company had many questions about all this — the status of the city’s claim depended on the answers.
Wade, the lawyer from New York, closely questioned Nelson about his understanding of the alarm system, both in Springfield and at his old job in southern Georgia.
The security guards were questioned. Daniels, hired seven months after the alarm issues happened and the note went on the file, told investigators he was never aware of any false alarms.
Hall, a guard since 2002, said he had been aware of issues such as mobile art turning in the air in a way that could set off alarms, but not of the note.
The lawyer asked if Hall learned about the note on the day of the discovery or “as people were investigating.”
He answered, “I did not become aware of that fact until the FBI was interviewing me and Mr. Nelson was in the room and they asked him that question.”
‘The obvious place to start’
Museum thefts are often committed by people with close ties to museums, so the insurance company’s investigators also asked about current and former museum staff.
Nelson told the News-Leader, “From what I understand, most art theft in environments like this, a lot of times, are inside jobs.”
Talking to staff is “the obvious place to start if you’re investigating this,” he said.
He conceded that the Warhol theft and the investigation harmed museum staff morale.
“I don’t think it would be overly dramatic to say people were heartbroken,” Nelson said, comparing the situation to the aftermath of a home break-in. “Not to speak for anybody, but I think it’s fair to say they felt violated, they felt unsafe, probably, in their own workplace.”
Investigators questioned Buhr, the curator, about a series of text messages she exchanged with the museum’s former assistant director, Merritt Giles, whose responsibilities included security. About five days after the theft, Giles texted Buhr a reference to “The Thomas Crown Affair,” a movie about a fictional art theft.
Buhr did not immediately respond. When she did, she sent Giles a photo of flowers growing in the museum courtyard. While he’d been at the museum — 2013 to 2015 — Giles had put new plants and outdoor furniture in the space.
They began texting back and forth about the courtyard fountain. It hadn’t been cleaned lately because the area was closed off for roof repairs.
“Plus we’ve been a little distracted lately (sad emoji),” Buhr texted.
“Yeah, how is that?!?” Giles responded. “I’ve been getting texts galore about it.”
“It’s insane,” Buhr texted back. “I’m so angry I can barely walk in the door each day. Who keeps texting?”
They talked about “numerous SGF” people who were texting, and about Jimmy Fallon joking about the crime on late-night TV.
Giles texted, “It’s not the publicity you guys wanted, but it is publicity … you know the old saying. It just seemed crazy that it even happened.”
He added, “I bet Nick is adding the security system and camera updates to the list now, despite his saying it wasn’t needed when I approached him about it a year ago.”
Contacted by the News-Leader last week, Giles, who now lives in southern Georgia, said he had been unaware that his name came up in the insurance company documents until being asked about it by a reporter.
Noting that he left the museum six months before the Warhols were stolen, Giles wouldn’t comment on any security suggestions he made while he worked at the museum, or whether he knew about the problems with false alarms. (Nelson told investigators he could not recall whether he had discussed the false alarm issue with Giles. Security guards said they didn’t know what kinds of security matters were discussed between the two.)
Giles said the FBI had not contacted him as part of its investigation.
“I wouldn’t see why they would contact me,” Giles told the News-Leader last week. “Again, I wasn’t working there at the time.”
Another man with indirect ties to the museum came up in Buhr’s statement to the insurance company.
Clarence Brewer is a Springfield painter, sculptor and blues musician who performs as King Clarentz.
He told the News-Leader that the FBI has not contacted him about a phone call that Nelson described to investigators as “weird.”
Buhr, the curator, got to know Brewer because she keeps up with the local art world as part of her job. She told the investigators that before the theft, Brewer left her a message at the front desk.
“I called him and he said, ‘Well, I have someone interested in buying Warhol,’ and I said, ‘Well, we’re not selling Warhol,’ and it was a very confusing conversation, but he said, ‘Well, I’ll just get him, I called him and I thought he wanted to sell, but he said he‘s going to buy, and I’ll just have him get in touch with you.’ I said, ‘Well, we don’t sell art from the museum,’ and that was the end of the call.”
The lawyer agreed that it was a “rather strange telephone call.” Museums usually don’t engage in day-to-day art sales like a commercial gallery or a dealer, and typically only sell collection items in times of great financial stress. The lawyer asked Buhr if she’d mentioned the call to law enforcement. Buhr said she told the FBI. Nelson also said he mentioned it to police.
Brewer’s version of the conversation differs from Buhr’s.
Brewer told the News-Leader that he contacted the museum after the theft, thinking it might want to replace its Warhols. He said he’d been in touch with a representative of a prominent gallery in the Southeast who also worked as a writer.
The writer had ties to Jose Mugrabi, a prominent art collector in New York said by the Wall Street Journal to own at least 800 Warhol pieces.
Mugrabi, Brewer had heard, was looking to sell.
“I called Sarah Buhr and said if you want to replace those with original art, this is the guy who owns most of the Warhols,” he told the News-Leader.
He insisted that the conversation took place after the Warhol theft, not before, as the museum had told the insurance company.
The insurance company asked about another incident. A week before the theft, the museum announced upgrades to the lighting in some of the galleries that would better protect the art on display.
The contractor on the project was working at the museum for several weeks, and to access the job site, they had checked out a key to an exterior alarmed door from the security guards.
The key went missing. Museum staff checked the sign-in sheet and confronted the person who had checked it out.
“They found it on the ground outside the door and that was suspicious,” Nelson told investigators. “It wasn’t so much that they had the key as that they found it immediately when we confronted them. It would be one thing if it was like, oh I forgot it and left it in my pants at home and I’m going to go home and get it and bring it back to you.”
Instead, the contractor said, “Oh, there it is,” and looked down and found the key on the ground under a dumpster.
“It was just very odd,” Nelson said.
FBI: No new information
Bridget Patton, an FBI public information officer stationed in Kansas City, declined to comment on whether the FBI interviewed any of the individuals mentioned in the sworn statements, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
She declined to provide any general update on the FBI investigation. No arrests or charges have been filed.
The seven prints remain listed on the FBI’s National Stolen Art File, along with about 90 other Warhols. There’s a $25,000 reward for information leading to their safe return.
At the museum, life continued following the theft.
Buhr told investigators that many of her art lenders called her up in the days after the theft, “freaking out” about museum security.
But since the Warhols were taken, the museum has hosted many shows with art from lenders, including a group of American Impressionist paintings on loan from Pennsylvania and a private collection of prints from Cuba currently on display.
The insurance company decided to pay the museum’s claim, at the upper end of the price range for a set of “Campbell’s Soup 1” prints.
In early 2017, the city received checks totaling $750,000. It turned over the remaining three Warhols to the insurance company as part of the settlement.
The museum finished the new emergency preparedness plan it had been working on before the Warhols were taken.
Nelson told the News-Leader that it’s easy to look back and speculate about the crime, but the museum is looking toward the future.
“There are a lot of unknowns out there, how could this happen, who could have done this,” he said. “And I think in a lot of ways those are distractions, and the real question is how do we prevent something like this from happening again, and that’s what we need to focus on.”
After the Springfield Art Museum got its national accreditation last year, it announced a $20 million renovation plan.
Over 30 years and three phases, the proposal would transform the museum.
The plan calls for sweeping glass walls and a roof simultaneously inspired by the flow of Fassnight Creek and the paper folds of Japanese origami.
In its first phase, the planned construction would completely replace the museum’s Original Wing.
The current courtyard, where the Warhols went out in the middle of the night three years ago, disappears from the design.
The replacement courtyard would be bigger, open to the sky — but wrapped by walls on all four sides.