Art thief’s body found in London Canal

 A middle-age man with a tattoo of a lizard or gecko on his right shoulder was found dead in London’s picturesque Regent’s Canal, his body tied to a shopping cart and at first, his identity was unknown.


On Thursday, the police said they had solved at least part of the mystery, when fingerprints taken from the hand of the decomposed body showed that he was Sebastiano Magnanini, 46, an Italian carpenter living in South London and one of the men behind the brazen theft almost 22 years ago of a masterpiece from an unguarded church in his native Venice.

i was sentenced in 1998 to 18 months in prison after he was charged with stealing a 1732 altarpiece painting, “The Education of the Virgin,” by the Venetian master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, from the Santa Maria della Fava church in Venice. The painting was estimated to be worth two billion Italian lire at the time of its theft in 1993 — or roughly $1.15 million today.

Mr. Magnanini was 24 at the time, and the theft — characterized as an operatic farce by the Italian news media — alarmed some in the country and fanned debate about how to protect treasured artwork.
The church, which had no alarm system, was unlocked. Mr. Magnanini and two other men sneaked in and evaded the priests by hiding in the church until it closed, according to the police report from the time, cited by ANSA, the Italian news agency.
During the burglary, Mr. Magnanini and his accomplices, apparently fatigued from the arduous task of removing the painting from the altar, stopped at a local bar for a drink. They also smoked marijuana, according reports at the time.

During their escape, the canvas fell on the ground, unrolling itself, and the three men picked it up and secured it with a shoelace.

The newspaper Corriere della Sera reported in 1993 that one of the men had been reluctant to get involved in the caper because of his concern that stealing from from a church could bring bad luck.
The painting turned up three months later, wrapped in a sheet at a warehouse not far from Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. According to Italian news reports, the speed of the discovery raised some questions over whether the police were somehow involved. But Mr. Magnanini and his accomplices were arrested and charged with aggravated theft.

London’s Metropolitan Police said on Thursday that a post-mortem examination had taken place. The cause of death was not yet known. The police said they were treating it as a suspicious death. A Scotland Yard spokesman said on Thursday night that Mr. Magnanini’s past in Italy would form part of the investigation, and that organized crime was not a line of inquiry at this point.

In addition to the tattoo on his shoulder, he had one of a koi carp on his torso and several others on his hand, the police said.

Before going to London last year, he lived in Colombia, Thailand and Cambodia. In London, he worked building sets for theater and other event companies.

The police said they became aware of the death after a passer-by spotted the body on Sept. 24 in Regent’s Canal in north London, a scenic and verdant spot peppered with houseboats, public housing and new expensive glass lofts.

Detective Chief Inspector Reeves, said that Mr. Magnanini had taken public transportation to central London two days earlier, before he disappeared. “This has been devastating for Sebastiano’s family,” she said.

 

Advertisements

Drop your comments below!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s