As Stolen Van Goghs Return to View, a Thief Tells All
AMSTERDAM — “Some people are born teachers. Some people are born footballers. I’m a born burglar.” So says Octave Durham, who stole two priceless Vincent van Gogh paintings on the evening of Dec. 7, 2002.
More than 14 years after he and an accomplice clambered onto the roof of the Van Gogh Museum here, broke a window with a sledgehammer and lifted the canvases off the wall, Mr. Durham has finally come clean about his involvement in one of the most infamous postwar art heists.
He did so in a 45-minute documentary that will show on Dutch television on Tuesday, the same day the museum plans to return the two canvases — recovered in September from the home of an Italian mobster’s mother — to public view.
The confession has no legal impact for Mr. Durham, who was convicted in 2004 and served just over 25 months in prison, but it sheds light on the paintings’ tortuous journey and ultimate rescue, and on the intersection of art theft and organized crime.
“The heist took about 3 minutes and 40 seconds,” Mr. Durham says in the documentary. “When I was done, the police were there, and I was passing by with my getaway car. Took my ski mask off, window down, and I was looking at them.”
He adds: “I could hear them on my police scanner. They didn’t know it was me.”
Mr. Durham, in details that he shares for the first time, after years of claiming innocence, brags of doing “bank jobs, safety deposit and more spectacular jobs than this.” He says he targeted the museum not because of any interest in art but simply because he could. “That’s the eye of a burglar,” he boasts.