The thief turned to The Screamit hung only a yard from
the window and snipped the wire that held it to the wall. The Scream, at
roughly two feet by three feet, was big and bulky. With an ornate frame and
sheets of protective glass both front and back, it was heavy, tooa difficult
load to carry out a window and down a slippery metal ladder. The thief leaned
out the window as far as he could and placed the painting on the ladder.
"Catch!" he whispered, and then, like a parent sending his toddler down a steep
hill on a sled, he let go.
His companion on the ground, straining upward, caught the
sliding painting. The two men ran to their car, tucked their precious cargo into
the back seat, and roared off. Elapsed time inside the museum: fifty seconds.
In less than a minute the thieves had gained possession of a
painting valued at $72 million.
It had been absurdly easy. "Organized crime, Norwegian style," a
Yard detective would later marvel. "Two men and a ladder!"
At 6:37 a.m. a gust of wind whipped into the dark museum and set
the curtains at the broken window dancing. A motion detector triggered a second
alarm. This time the guard, 24-year-old old Geir Berntsen, decided that something
was wrong. Panicky and befuddled, he thrashed about trying to sort out what
to do. Check things out himself? Call the police?
Berntsen still had not noticed the crucial television monitor,
which now displayed a ladder standing unattended against the museum's front
Nor had he realized that the alarm had come from room 10, where
The Scream hung.
Berntsen phoned his supervisor, who was at home in bed and
halfasleep, and blurted out his incoherent story. In midtale, yet another alarm
sounded. It was 6:46 a.m. Fully awake now, Berntsen's supervisor hollered at him
to call the police and check the monitors. At almost precisely the same moment,
a police car making a routine patrol through Oslo's empty streets happened to
draw near the National Gallery. A glance told the tale: a dark night, a ladder,
a shattered window.
The police car skidded to a stop. One cop radioed in the
break-in, and two others ran toward the museum. The first man to the ladder
scrambled his way to the top, and then, like his thief counterpart a few minutes
before, slipped and fell off.
Back to the radio. The police needed another patrol car, to
bring their colleague to the emergency room. Then they ran into the museum, this
time by way of the stairs.
The policemen hurried to the room with the ladder on the sill. A
frigid breeze flowed in through the broken window. The walls of the dark room
were lined with paintings, but there was a blank spot next to the high window on
University Street. The police ducked the billowing curtains and stepped over the
broken glass. A pair of wire cutters lay on the floor. Someone had left a
The day of the crime was no ordinary winter Saturday. February
12 marked the first day of the 1994 Olympic Winter Games, held in the Norwegian
city of Lillehammer. For Norway in general, and for its leading political and
cultural figures in particular, this was a rare chance to bask in the world's
The opening ceremonies, a happy and controversy-free spectacle,
were expected to draw 240 million television viewers. To most of that multitude,
the word "Norway" called up only the vaguest associations. Snow. Fjords. Pine
trees. Reindeer, maybe. Blondes, perhaps, or was that just Sweden?
Asked to name a famous Norwegian, most people would draw a
In the minds of the Norwegian establishment, the Olympics were a
chance to begin to dispel that ignorance. When viewers around the world turned
on their TV sets, they would see a national coming-out party. They would see
Norway at its best.
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