Art Thief Takes Another Swing at Stealing a Masterpiece...and Misses
Henk Bieslijn turns himself in for his role in last month's failed Monet heist
In Stealing Rembrandts and The Woman Who Stole Vermeer, I made the point that rare is the thief who steals art more than once. For every Myles Connor, Stéphane Breitwieser, and Rose Dugdale there are many hundreds of thieves who steal art only to learn the folly of their crime and never do it again. The lesson they learn is, in nearly every case, monetizing a highly-valuable and recognizable work is next to impossible.
But—as I am ever eager to point out—there are always exceptions to the rule, and yesterday’s arrest of Henk Bieslijn (referred to only as “Henk B.” in Dutch news reports because of privacy laws in Holland) makes him one such outlier.
Bieslijn was arrested by Dutch police when he turned himself in for his role in last month’s attempted theft of Monet’s Voorzaan and Westerhem from the Zaans Museum in Zaanse Schans just over a month ago. His efforts failed when a bystander intervened and tried to stop Bieslijn and his accomplice. They fired a shot at the heroic individual, missing him and dropping the painting in the process. They fled empty-handed on a scooter. The story made international news, with some outlets painting the thieves as bumblers. But, in Henk Bieslijn’s case, that’s not exactly an accurate portrayal.
In 2002, Bieslijn was the right-hand man to legendary master thief Octave Durham in the spectacular overnight heist of two early Van Gogh paintings from the museum bearing the artist’s name in Amsterdam. (The two thieves are no longer affiliated and Durham is not a suspect in the Monet heist). That theft, considered the heist of the century, resulted in Durham and Bieslijn selling the works to Camorra boss Raffaele Imperiale who used them to win a break in his sentencing for unrelated drug crimes. Imperiale, who had fled to Dubai to escape arrest and was finally captured in August 2021, said he purchased the paintings from the thieving duo because of “their artistic value.”
A reliable source has informed me that Bieslijn has a very serious drug habit. Perhaps this was at the heart of his fumbled attempt and desperate need for cash. Whatever the motive, Bieslijn faces a very long prison sentence if convicted.