The art industry is worth billions. Paintings and sculptures by famed artists can fetch millions upon millions of dollars and only increase in value with each passing year. Given the wealth at stake, it’s unsurprising that the art world draws the attention of antique collectors, billionaire art enthusiasts as well as opportunistic thieves. Each year, despite extensive securty measures by the world’s art institutions, elaborate art heists are carried out resulting in the theft of artworks that are worth small fortunes. Throughout history, numerous thefts have rocked the art world and gained worldwide publicity. Indeed, numerous high-profile thefts still baffle authorities. Pablo Picasso’s work, La pigeon aux petits pois, has yet to be recovered after it was stolen in 2010 from the City of Paris’ Museum of Modern Art. The painting is reportedly worth a staggering $123 million. This is the bizarre and unbelievable story surrounding one particularly valuable missing piece of work. Back in 1985, a painting was stolen from a Tucson museum. The awe-inspiring mystery surrounding the stolen painting would remain unsolved for 32 long years. But after the death of a quiet, unassuming and seemingly ordinary elderly couple, mind-boggling details would soon come to light. The Atlers had housed the stolen artwork in their home, hanging the million-dollar artwork in their bedroom. Here, we take a look at the amazing story behind the couple’s acquisition of the stolen painting. Could it be that this mild-mannered couple were the masterminds behind one of the world’s most mysterious art heists?
Jerry and Rita Alter arrived in the small town of Cliff, NM, towards the end of the 1970s. Supposedly, Jerry had been employed as a teacher in New York City before moving west to enjoy his years of retirement. The self-published author also had a love for adventure, art and travel.
A Pair of Travellers
Indeed, according to the biographical profile in one of his many books, Jerry was an avid and adventurous traveler. He had ventured to over 140 countries and had set foot on all seven continents by the time he reached his 80th birthday. The man was described as quiet and mild-mannered by those who knew him few would have suspected the schoolteacher had a hidden and unlikely identity.
His beloved wife, Rita, also had an educational background. She’d found work in the local schooling system working as a speech pathologist after the couple later relocated to New Mexico. The Alters went on to have a seemingly ordinary and quiet life or so it was thought.
Kept To Themselves
Jerry and Rita Alter kept to themselves. They were a lovely couple, neighbors in the small New Mexico town of Cliff would later tell reporters. But no one knew much about them. They may have been hiding a decades-old secret, pieces of which are now just emerging.
A Mysterious Secret
With their two children, Barbara and Joseph, having left long home, the Alter parents prepared to settle into a quiet retirement in Cliff. According to those who knew Jerry and Rita, the pair were a pleasant but a notoriously private couple. Few could have suspected that Jerry and Rita were hiding a million dollar secret within the walls of their home.
A Sad Passing
In 2012 Jerry sadly passed due to natural causes at the age of 81. Five years later, Rita also passed away. The deceased couple’s nephew Ron Roseman, was left in charge of the couple’s assets and estate. In the months following Rita’s passing, Roseman put the Alter’s Cliff home up for sale and invited local antiques dealers to have a look at the home’s contents.
The Peculiar Painting
David Van Auker, a dealer from the nearby town of Silver City, walked through the Alters’ home and soon found himself drawn to one particular piece of art. A mid-20th century work featuring an abstract interpretation of a nude lady. The painting had been hung in Jerry and Rita’s bedroom, a strange place for such an interesting piece to be viewed.