There are some 20th century crimes that are so exotic and amazing that they seem to be scripts for a fantastic movie even more than a real crime. The robbing of Fort Knox or the escape from Alcatraz would fit in that description. And certainly, when it comes to a story of a fantastic crime that baffled authorities and that remains one of the most astounding feats of criminal genius, the stealing of the Mona Lisa has to rank as one of the best.
The discovery of the theft would make a good movie moment all by itself. Amazingly after the famous painting disappeared, and entire day passed before the crime was discovered but not by museum officials. An artist, Louis Béroud had come to the Louvre to work on a painting of a little girl looking at her hair in her refection in the glass partition that had been put in front of The Mona Lisa to protect it. The painting was part of a protest that art lovers had over the use of glass dividers that were being used to protect their most precious works of art.
On August 22, 1911, Louis Béroud entered The Louvre and proceeded to the Salon Carré, which is where The Mona Lisa was on display. It was he that stood in shock when he looked up where the great work of art had been and saw nothing but the mounts that had held it to the wall. The unimaginable had happened. A thief had taken The Mona Lisa and the crime was so perfect that the painting had disappeared from under the noses of museum curators without them even noticing it was gone.
In the annals of 20th century crimes, this can only be described as the work of a master thief. To say that The Louvre officials literally could not believe it would be an understatement. After checking with a photography studio and other valid agencies who may have “borrowed” the painting, the museum finally closed for the day and called the French police. Finally, they had to admit that the precious Da Vinci painting had been stolen. Not only had the crime been carried out perfectly, no clues or any indication how the painting had been spirited out of the Louvre could be found.
Just the theft of The Mona Lisa puts this phenomenal crime at the top of the list of one of the greatest 20th century crimes of all time. But the police were stumped and the crime was on its way to becoming one of the greatest unsolved crimes of all time. Two years went by with the painting missing. It wasn’t until 1913 when an art dealer by the name of Alfredo Geri ran a routine advertisement that he was in the market to buy art that a mysterious figure calling himself “Leonardo” made contact with the claim that he had The Mona Lisa.
Although skeptical, Geri negotiated with the man to see the painting that was allegedly the great Da Vince painting in Milan. But Geri also involved the police to lay the trap for the thief. Geri met the mysterious figure in his hotel room and it was there that Vincenzo Peruggia, the man who stole the Mona Lisa, opened a suitcase and revealed The Mona Lisa stored there under his underwear and travel supplies. After Geri conformed from the seal on the back that it was the authentic masterpiece, the trap was sprung and Peruggia was arrested bringing to an end one of the most phenomenal 20th century crimes of them all – the stealing of The Mona Lisa.