The Strange History of the Salvador Dalí Painting Stolen from Rikers Island
In 2003, prison guards organized a heist of a painting Dalí donated to the jail complex in 1965.
In 1965, Salvador Dalí hastily painted Christ on the cross and donated it to the Rikers Island jail in New York, as compensation for a cancelled visit. The painting hung in various Rikers buildings for most of 48 years, making occasional trips to museum exhibits and maintenance rooms. Then in 2003, a group of prison guards conspired to steal it. The ensuing investigation found three men at least partially responsible for the heist, but to this day, is yet to yield the painting.
When it lived inside Rikers’ jails, the Dalí had a plaque that claimed the painting was worth one million dollars. Inspired by that potential, a group of prison guards set out to steal the painting and replace it with a poorly-made imitation early in the morning of March 1, 2003. The guards arranged a fire drill for the night of the heist, one that would draw the other guards on-duty away from the lobby with the Dalí. One guard served as lookout, another worked on removing the painting from its constraints, and a third monitored the fire drill.
The investigation that followed landed one of the charged guards in prison, another on probation, and a third on a plea deal. The cat-and-mouse game that still dominates the heist’s narrative, however, has to do with prison guard Benny Nuzzo, who each of the other charged guards named as a co-conspirator but was found not guilty in court. Believed to be the mastermind by the case’s lead investigator, Nuzzo commanded the investigator’s respect. The whereabouts of the Dalí remain unknown.
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