(photo: ‘I…didn’t…do it!’ by Sam Javanrouh, 2003)
- In 2004, Elton Murphy, 49, killed Joyce Wishart, 61, in her downtown Sarasota, FL art gallery - stabbing her twenty times, and then leaving her body propped and posed to mimic a work of art hanging nearby on the gallery’s wall. Murphy, who says his full name is “The Lord God Elton Brutus Murphy” claims he is “God-like,” knows about aliens, has 1,000 followers who are under his control and has told a psychologist he has replaced the soul of his lawyer. He has claimed that he is perfectly mentally competent, is aware of his actions, and wants his trial to wrap up as soon as possible (DNA evidence linked him to the crime). The trial began in 2006 and is currently in progress.
- In 1985, police uncovered a .22-caliber rifle inside the Andrew Crispo Art Gallery in NYC, that was used to kill male model and Fashion Institute of Technology student Eigil Dag Vesti, 26, in that same year. Bernard J. LeGeros, 22, an employee at the gallery and personal assistant to Mr. Crispo, was convicted on second-degree murder charges of the model, whom he claims he killed on orders from Crispo. Vesti’s burned body was discovered on LeGeros’ father’s estate, wearing only a leather mask and shot twice in the back of the head. LeGeros is currently serving a life sentence. The dubious but well connected Crispo, then 42, was acquitted in this particular case. The flamboyant details of this infamous 80’s haut monde art world crime are bizarre and sickly glamorous, and are the subject of a non-fiction book (Bag of Toys, Warner Books, 1992) written by David France, and expanded from an article he wrote about the ordeal for Vanity Fair in 1988.
- In 1997, Irena Hatfield, director of the Lismore Regional Art Gallery, was arrested and charged with the 1985 shooting death of her husband Christopher at their Maroubra, Australia home. The rocky, complicated, erotic/revenge-driven case became an ongoing soap opera for the public, and the media reported the details of the lengthy investigation and trail extensively. Hatfield reverted back to her maiden name of Dobrijevich after she was acquitted of the crime in 2000. As well as writing a book about her ordeal (Irena, Harper Collins, 2001), and selling her story to television and film production companies, in 2006 she opened her own erotic-themed art and photography gallery, LushArt, in Surry Hills, Australia.
- In 2004, gallery owner Lori Haigh began receiving phone death threats, physical assaults and vandalism after displaying a painting at her Capobianco Gallery in San Francisco, which depicted the torturing of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. A few days after the controversy began, while Haigh was making preparations to temporarily close the gallery and avoid mounting trouble, a man knocked on the door of the gallery. When Haigh answered he punched her violently in the face, knocking her unconscious. The assault left her with a broken nose, injured eye and a concussion. The story became a political hot point, and the death threats towards Haigh increased and became more extreme (listen here). She has sinced closed up shop and has gotten out of the art gallery business.
- In 1911, the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, vanished out of the Louvre museum in Paris, France. Detectives discovered the painting’s heavy display frame discarded in a stairwell leading to one of the museum’s cloakrooms. The explosive crime naturally lead to much speculation and finger-pointing. Fiery, inductive surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire (who had once rallied for public torching of the Louvre) was jailed temporarily under suspicion of the theft, and Pablo Picasso was even held and questioned at one point - both were later released. But two years after it disappeared, it was discovered that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia had stolen it, simply walking out the door with it hidden under his overcoat. He had been hired by con man Eduardo de Valfierno, who had secretly commissioned French art forger Yves Chaudron to make copies of the painting so he could sell them as the missing original. But Valfierno goofed by neglecting Peruggia (he actually didn’t need the original for the forging, just for it to go missing in the public’s eye). After keeping it in his apartment in Paris for two years, an angry and impatient Peruggia was caught attempting to sell it to a Florence art dealer. After a brief tour of Italy, the original painting was returned to the Louvre, more popular than ever.
- In 2004, a devastating fire broke out at art storage firm Momart’s warehouse on the Cromwell industrial estate in Leyton, England. Destroyed were many extremely valuable pieces of modern “Britart” owned by controversial British art mogul Charles Saatchi. Investigation later revealed that the warehouse was burgled before the fire broke out. The accumulative value of the works lost is estimated in the many millions, and the crime is still unsolved.
-In 1972, eventual serial killer Gary Gilmore won several prison art competitions (serving time up to that point for a youth spent mostly committing armed robbery and drunken, violent assaults). Those art awards, and a marked interest in bettering his IQ and an earnest, expressed interest in cultivating art as a life career prompted prison officials to grant him an early release for the sole purpose of attending an art school in Eugene Oregon. The inspiration was brief, as Gilmore didn’t attend the school or pursue art at all once out of jail - and was back to his scary, criminal ways within weeks of release. Gilmore would continue a downward spiral of serious crime and murder and end up on death row. He was executed by firing squad in 1977, before receiving a goodbye phone call on his last day from Johnny Cash, and also uttering the words “let’s do it!” A few remaining pieces of Gilmore’s work exist in a box at Utah State Historical Society in Salt Lake City, along with other artifacts from his incarceration.
- In 2006, a Buffalo high school art teacher, along with an off-duty Buffalo police officer friend, was charged with with second-degree reckless endangerment after parking in an area near several homes and businesses and firing rounds from a gun into an open lot. Suspension of the art teacher from the school is still pending (the officer was suspended without pay), and the only apparent motive in the case was boredom.