- Jerry Alter and his wife Rita are believed to be the thieves who stole a multi-million dollar painting from an Arizona museum more than three decades ago
- Willem de Kooning's iconic 'Woman-Ochre' painting vanished from the University of Arizona Museum of Art on Thanksgiving day 1985
- According to authorities a man and woman walked into the museum and cut it out of the frame and then took off in a red sports car
- The painting was found in the bedroom of Jerry and Rita's home in August 2017 after they died
- A recently surfaced photo shows Jerry and Rita were in Arizona around the time the painting was stolen
A married couple from New Mexico is connected to a 30-year cold-case art theft after a missing multi-million dollar painting was found in the bedroom of their home following their deaths.
Willem de Kooning's iconic 'Woman-Ochre' painting vanished from the University Of Arizona Museum Of Art on Thanksgiving day in 1985. The suspects were described as a man and woman believed to be in their 50s.
The painting - valued at $160million - would remain missing for the next 31 years until in 2017 the owner of an antiques store in New Mexico called the museum's curator and the FBI to say that he was in possession of the famous stolen artwork.
Jerry and Rita Alter, pictured, are believed to be the thieves who stole a missing Willem de Kooning's iconic 'Woman-Ochre' painting
The painting, valued at $160million, vanished from an Arizona museum in 1985 . Pictured above are Jerry and Rita
Willem de Kooning's iconic 'Woman-Ochre' painting (pictured) had been missing for 31 years
Van Auker, who co-owns Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques, told
investigators that he bought the painting for $2,000 at an estate sale.
The home where Van Auker purchased the beautiful painting belonged to Jerry and Rita Alter, who died in 2012 and 2017, respectively. They were both 81 when they died.
As the FBI investigates the theft, clues are beginning to emerge about the small-town couple accused of snatching de Kooning's prized painting from the Arizona museum more than three decades ago.
According to KOB 4,
Jerry and Rita kept a day planner with meticulous notes about where
they went, what they ate and what medications they had. The couple
mysteriously left Thanksgiving 1985 blank, the same day the painting was
taken from the museum.
A newly surfaced family photo also reveals that Jerry and Rita, who have two children, were in Tuscon a day before the heist.
to reports, on Thanksgiving 1985 a security guard at the University Of
Arizona Museum Of Art unlocked the front doors to let an employee inside
when a man and a woman walked in behind the staffer.
the museum was about to open for the day, the guard did not tell them
to leave. The man walked upstairs to the second floor of the museum as
the woman stayed and chatted with the security guard.
15 minutes after entering the museum, the man and woman left in a
hurry. Sensing something was wrong, the guard walked up to the second
floor to discover that de Kooning's 'Woman-Ochre' painting had been cut
from its frame.
The sketch of what police said the man and woman looked like the day they snatched the painting and took off
Jerry Alter died at the age of 81 in 2012 and his wife at 81 in 2017. Following her death, their nephew put their home on the market and began liquidating their stuff
Many people believe Rita and Jerry, pictured, are the thieves after the painting was discovered in their bedroom after they died
Family and friends said they didn't think the Alters had a lot of money but the couple was able to travel to 140 countries on all seven continents before their death
It was revealed that they had more than a million dollars in savings at the time of their deaths, something family did not know
Jerry and Rita's New Mexico
home. The painting was accidentally found when the couple's nephew held
an estate sale after their deaths
he tried to chase after the man and the woman, they were speeding away
in a red sports car. The museum did not have security cameras at the
time and police found no fingerprints.
released a sketch of the couple, which bears a striking resemblance to
Jerry and Rita, and described what they had been wearing, but no arrests
were ever made.
The theft went cold
until in August 2017 Van Auker accidentally stumbled upon the painting
'hidden' behind the master bedroom of Jerry and Rita's ranch-style New
He told several news
outlets that he went to the couple's home to see what they had left
behind after hearing about an estate sale. Van Auker co-owns
the Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques store in Silver City.
Auker said as he was walking around the house he found a 'great, cool
mid century painting' and bought it from Jerry and Rita's nephew Ron
Roseman for $2,000.
Artist Willem de Kooning died in 1997
Van Auker and Roseman, who was named executor of the estate, were unaware of the painting's history.
Auker said he put the painting up in his store and almost immediately a
customer told him that it looked like an original de Kooning painting.
Van Auker said he didn't believe the customer at first, until other
people commented on it telling him that he was in possession of a
valuable piece of artwork.
said he took the painting down, did some research and contacted the FBI
and the Arizona museum when he realized it was stolen.
Museum curator Olivia Miller told WFAA that she was stunned when she got the call and flew to New Mexico to inspect the artwork.
couldn’t believe I was looking at it in person. I’ve only known it
through photos. I was trying to soak in every detail of the texture of
it,' she told the Silver City Daily Press.
The painting is now back at the museum, but is not yet on display.
As for how it ended up in the bedroom of a small-town couple living in New Mexico, remains a mystery. Over the past 12 months since it was first discovered, several clues have popped up, including a possible confession
According to the New York Times, Jerry, a teacher and musician from New York, published a series of short stories the year before he died. One story called The Eye of the Jaguar describes a woman and her grand-daughter
who stole a prized emerald gem from a museum.
It's believed that the couple may have been the thieves that swiped the $160million painting but it remains a mystery how it ended up in their home
Ron Roseman (top) said he was very close to his aunt and uncle (bottem) but had no idea they had a multi-million dollar painting in their home
photo of the empty frame at the University Of Arizona Museum Of Art where the painting once was on display
Authorities said the woman distracted the museum's security guard as the man went upstairs and cut the painting from its frame
The painting is now back at the University Of Arizona Museum Of Art but is not on display
the book, the woman distracts the museum's security guard as the
grand-daughter swipes the gem. The duo leave the museum in a hurry
speeding off in a sports car. The woman and her grand-daughter were
never caught and were the only ones who knew the truth about the stolen
Another possible clue is that
Jerry and Rita loved to travel and visited 140 countries on all seven
continents, even though neighbors and family said they were not known to
have a lot of money. The couple reportedly had more than a million
dollar in savings when they died.
Roseman, who was very close to Jerry and Rita, said he thought they must have lived 'very frugal lives'.
mystery surrounding the couple is their two children, a son
named Joseph M Alter and a daughter who has not been named. Several
outlets report that the children have not been tracked down.
who knew Jerry and Rita said Joseph, who would have been 23 at the time
of the heist, suffered severe psychological problems and spent most of
his life in and out of mental institutions.
Several people told the New York Times the couple owned a red sports car, similar to the one the thieves used to get away in 1985. Others said family photos show Rita wearing an outfit that matched a police description of what the female thief was wearing.
The FBI refuses to comment on the theft until the case is closed.