Former art thief and detective rate 9 art heists in movies and tv

  • Reformed burglar Octave Durham and art detective Arthur Brand look at popular art-theft film scenes.
  • They break down movies such as “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004), “Dr. No” (1962) and “Black Panther” (2018).
  • Brand and Durham are based in Amsterdam, and now work together to solve art and jewellery heists.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Octave Durham is no longer involved in criminal activity. Since he has reformed and spent time in prison, he works with detective Arthur Brand to solve international art and jewelry heists.

Below is a transcript of the video.

– That’s just a taste.

Arthur Brand: In many cases, it is an inside job, you know. There is somebody in a museum, who knows about what’s going to take place.

Octave Durham: Hi, my name is Octave Durham, nickname Oky. I did more than 10,000 burglaries. I robbed everything you can imagine, from museums, banks, armored trucks, but I never used any violence.

Arthur: My name is Arthur Brand. I’m an art detective, and I’m responsible for recovering $US250 ($AU344) million of stolen art. We now work together in trying to prevent art heists. Today, we’re going to watch art heist clips from Hollywood movies, and we’re going to judge how realistic they are.

“Ocean’s Twelve” (2004)

Arthur: I know of one museum who has lasers. It’s the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, but I don’t think it’s like this, you know.

Octave: He can dance around these lasers. I’m like, what is this capoeira stuff? Are you nuts? This does not exist. Even if it would exist like this, not touching any one of these lasers is impossible. It’s impossible. Even if you would have seen them, if you would see them, you know, without using any spray or something, it’s impossible.

Arthur: But look at this.

Octave: The practice to do this little dance, it will take you about a year. The whole collection is gone. What you see now is gone in a year. You’ll be dancing still with your lasers. I never studied the alarm for a long time. I mean, when you see a building, you see how I’m going get in, and I see the system, and it will be, yeah, studied in a minute. It’s a system that I can do, I can hack or not. There must’ve been a lot of sensors, right? I think at least 20 or something. It’s always one or two or three. Two in a corner detect the whole area.

Arthur: I really doubt if technology will ever be that perfect to prevent art thefts from happening, because you know, there is always a button you can switch off. And even if they can’t find a button, you know, they come in with a gun.

Octave: The average burglar would not do this, because he doesn’t have the skills or the balls to do it, because it looks very scary. They’re scared of jail. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. I did crimes, I can do the time. I did a lot of time.

Arthur: I give this movie a 10. No, kidding, a zero.

Rating: 0/10

“The Thomas Crown Affair” (1999)

The impressionist gallery, closed for cleaning.

– Cleaning? Yeah. Doing it right now.

Octave: You never talk to a guard, otherwise he can remember your face. You always avoid to see a guard.

Upstairs sent us down to clean this exhibit.

Octave: These are the fake guards. It’s impossible to be in a museum. And to me, this guy is too heavily guard. He has like a Taser, and it’s impossible. In the Netherlands, it’s not even allowed. I’ve never seen these big kinds. Probably, they exist somewhere. Maybe in the Louvre. When it happens, when the alarm goes off, it goes down, and they use something. It could be like that, but in a museum, it doesn’t go down.

Arthur: Most of the time, if they have walls like that, it goes down when they are closed, and they connect them to the ground or to the wall. They don’t open up anymore.

My God, you know, you can’t make this up. Well apparently you can. He takes an oil painting, and he folds it in two. Can you imagine? The painting is nailed on a wooden stretcher, so it breaks.

Octave: The frame, most of the time, together, it’s with some, what’s it called? Plexiglass, you know? So you won’t get it out, because it’s connected to each other. You really have to take some time to disconnect it from each other.

Arthur: Heists, especially art heists, are normally done by a gentleman thief, but the reality is different. Normally these heists are linked to organized crime. I have to deal with mobsters, with narcos, with terrorists. To give you one example, the second most searched painting, second on the FBI most wanted list is the Caravaggio. It was stolen in 1969, in Palermo, Sicily. And it’s said that it’s being displayed at meeting between mafia bosses. So that’s the kind of people we have to deal with.

Octave: Most of the time, when it comes to burglaries, it’s human error, because you must imagine if you’re in a museum, nothing ever happens. So if something happens, everybody panics, and they don’t know, they forgot the rules. They get mixed up.

I rate a three.

Geez, that’s generous. Or a two. A two.

Rating: 2/10

Rating: 3/10

The Blacklist” S2E14 (2015)

Every transaction meticulously recorded for posterity in the family ledger.

Octave: You see two paintings that were stolen, but they were not in the movie. They were at my friend’s house.

Arthur: You see the two paintings that made Octave famous. The two Van Goghs that he stole in 2002. But in reality, they were not there on their couch, but it was under his bed. He sold it to a mafia boss in Italy, who later used these paintings to get a lesser sentence. So luckily, they came back in one piece. And some of the time, you have people who steal it and they figure out that they can’t sell it, and they panic, right? And they destroy it.

Octave: When this happened in the series “The Blacklist,” my telephone crashed.

Arthur: I was after him, and now that he has stopped doing these things, we are working together, trying to get these things prevented from happening, you know.

Octave: Arthur has his contacts. He’s got some information. He doesn’t tell me everything. I go out on the streets, talk to my people. They don’t talk to him. And in the middle, we figure things that other people can solve.

This is your chance to solve a century and a half’s worth of abductions and thefts.

Octave: So for me, it was something that I can make some money. I never knew that people got hurt, if paintings are stolen. I didn’t understand at the time. I do right now understand that people get hurt if paintings are stolen, and that’s one of the reasons I get some paintings back now.

10 out of 10.

Rating: 10/10

“Black Panther” (2018)

Tell me about this one. Also from Benin, seventh century. Fula tribe, I believe. Nah. It was taken by British soldiers in Benin, but it’s from Wakanda.

Octave: She’s like the director of the museum. And nobody approaches, the director doesn’t approach, or anyone, a guy.

Arthur: Art stolen from Africa is a hot item these days. Countries from Africa are demanding these pieces back from Western museums, because they were stolen during the colonial era. And many of these objects do have a spiritual meaning for these countries. And in fact, I was one of the first, last year, who brought one of such pieces back. An empress crown stolen from Ethiopia, and we brought it back, and we handed over to the prime minister in Ethiopia.

I’m going to take a break.

Arthur: It is an inside job, you know. There is somebody in it, in a bank, or in a museum, who knows about what’s going to take place.

Octave: It’s very easy to get somebody inside. It’s very easy. I did these things, you know. You have to find somebody who has problems, you know, has debt or something. I traced them, where they go, where they go out, and then I bump up to them saying, “I’m sorry. You want something to drink?”

But also a strange thing, they come with their open face. He wants to be noticed. He attracts attention. Yeah, it’s too much.

That’s just a taste.

Arthur: The problem with museums is that they are there for the public. They are not, it’s not meant to be a fortress. So it’s very hard to really prevent everybody from taking something. You cannot put every painting, like the Mona Lisa, behind such thick glass.

I’ve never heard of an art theft where people were killed, you know. They shoot people here like it’s, you know, it’s war. It’s not like that.

Octave: Let’s say you have stolen art from a crime like this. You cannot sell it. It’s too hard. People died, you cannot sell it. Ridiculous claim.

Rating: 2/10

“Topkapi” (1964)

Octave: This is a mission impossible. It’s really a mission impossible. It’s too much of a risk to abseil a guy down, with a guy just holding a rope. If it goes through his hands, he would drop dead. He has no control. This is … I cannot even imagine doing this. He’s half naked.

Arthur: There was one case I know of that they did this abseiling. It was a couple of years ago in England, in a warehouse. They abseiled into this warehouse, and the robbery took five hours, and they stole 200 rare books, amongst them first editions of Galileo, for example, worth $US3 ($AU4) million.

Octave: He hangs on top of the, what is it? A case, and he’s sweaty as hell. But at that time, they didn’t have DNA, so it was possible at the time, but now if you do that, they come and get you after, I think, two weeks. They will be at your house. In real, it’s very heavy. I think it’s even impossible to lift it up the way they do it. You know, you need sort of hydraulics, you know, to do this.

Arthur: This replacing is interesting, because it does happen. The most spectacular case was 20 years ago in Venezuela. A guy was walking around, visiting art galleries, and he wanted to sell them a painting called “Odalisque in Red Pants,” made by Henri Matisse. But everybody laughed him away, and they said, look, this is a fake, because the real one is in a museum in Venezuela. So everybody laughed and got him out. But there was one art dealer who got suspicious, so he called the museum and he said, “Is this painting still in your museum?” And they looked at the painting and then they found out that the painting in the museum was a forgery. So somehow, someone had changed the real one for a fake one.

Can you imagine you think you have two real paintings, two real Van Goghs, and you sell them to a heavy guy, and he finds out it’s fake? You’re dead.

Arthur: Things like this have happened, so let’s give it, you know, I give it a seven.

Octave: What do you give it? I give it a four.

Rating: 7/10

Rating: 4/10

“The Art of the Steal” (2013)

It’s not that bad. Yeah. It’s fun to watch.

Octave: You never go to your own house after you just stole the painting, and him touching everything with his bare hands. He doesn’t have a hand glove on. You never touch the painting with your bare hands, because of the DNA, fingerprints.

Arthur: Couple of years ago, they found a stolen Degas in a suitcase in a bus, so the police asked all the passengers, but nobody claimed the painting, of course. So it does happen that they put it in suitcases.

Octave: Most paintings I’ve seen have always been in a bag, trash bag or something, a trash can bag, right? Or a sport bag.

You got a warrant?

I don’t need a warrant. I’m not a cop.

But these guys are.

Arthur: The mistake that’s often made in Hollywood movies, Interpol does not have agents in the field making arrests. Interpol is an agency that collects information and distributes it around the world. It’s very important work, but these men and women are sitting behind a desk. But over and over again, Hollywood takes them from their desk, gives them a gun, and lets them make arrests. So this just doesn’t happen.

Octave: I know it’s true, because I got extradited by Interpol. He was talking to the Spanish cops, and he never said a word to me, and he went away. He just opened the doors at the airport, put me into a plane.

I love all the little dots. It’s very artistic.

Arthur: There are not many art detectives in the world, you know, police officers who dedicate themselves to art. There are a few. Some of them do have knowledge of art, but some of them have no clue.

But let’s be honest, the way he handles this painting, it’s like they wouldn’t allow him to touch the paint like that. I would say a five, six.

Octave: A three.

Rating: 6/10

Rating: 3/10

“Hudson Hawk” (1991)

They’re all back on.

Octave: This is unrealistic, really. And I never heard of a CCTV camera being override. I think it might have happened, you know, especially Secret Service has probably used this kind of stuff, but I don’t know of a museum robbery that this took place.

Arthur: If your security system goes down like an error, I’m sure they have regulations or protocol what they have to do, check everything. You have cameras, obvious and hidden cameras, of course. But what strikes me a lot is that, in many cases, when a theft happens, I call the police and say, “Where is the camera footage?” “No, because they were repairing cameras.” It’s like all the cameras in all museums, the whole year, they are being repaired.

♪ He can’t write his name or read a book ♪

Arthur: Safes hidden behind paintings. That does happen. But the thieves know that, of course, so that’s the first place they look. And if they don’t know, the moment they take a painting off the wall to steal it, they see the safe and they think, oh my God, we have a bonus.

Octave: That happened with me a couple of times. I never was looking for a safe. I took a painting, hey, we got a safe. You see? So don’t try this at home. Don’t do it. The door is the most difficult thing because it’s very thick, and the mechanism and stuff like that. You always go through the wall, underneath the safe, the back of the safe, the weak spots, you know?

♪ If that sort of life is what you wish ♪

Octave: I listened to music when I was on my way to get, you know, get some adrenaline.

I would say like a four.

Yeah, three or four.

Rating: 4/10

“The Monument’s Men” (2014)

I don’t think you’ve been properly introduced. Sam, that’s your neighbor, Mr. Rembrandt.

Arthur: The guy who is standing next to Clooney is based on a real character. His name is Harry Ettlinger. As a little kid, a Jewish kid in Germany, he was living in Karlsruhe, a few blocks away from the museum where this painting was hanging. And as a child, he wanted to see this painting, but he was not allowed. He was Jewish. They didn’t allow him into this museum. A couple of years later, his family fled from the Nazis to the United States. And when the war started, Harry joined the Army, and this unit, they had to track down all the art stolen by Adolf Hitler. They went into a salt mine in Altaussee, in Austria, and Harry, to his surprise, saw this same painting, this Rembrandt. So I couldn’t believe it. As an American sergeant, he brought it back himself. What a story.

Well, the Nazis stole millions of pieces of art. There was given an order to blow everything up, but the second man in command from the SS, Kaltenbrunner, prevented it. So in the end, this wasn’t blown up. They found all these pieces back.

This is an interesting scene. Here, you see a painting called Portrait of a Young Man, by Raphael. And this one is considered to be the most important painting still missing from World War II, this one. But it probably wasn’t in this salt mine to begin with. Even I am still searching for this particular painting. The Nazis did destroy art, but that was modern art, you know. The order was given to destroy them, but it didn’t take place.

For reality, I would give it like a nine.

Rating: 9/10

“Dr. No” (1962)

Arthur: This painting there, the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya, was really stolen in ’61, and in ’62, when this movie was shot, it still was lost. The maker started to be a little in-joke to put it in the movie. The real thief was caught a few years later, after this movie. It was not Dr. No. It was a taxi driver from London. It influenced a lot of thieves. So they steal a painting, and then they are going to search for Dr. No to sell it to, but there are not many Dr. Nos, because why would you buy a stolen painting if you have the money to buy a real one. You cannot show a stolen painting to your friends, to your children. So there are not that many Dr. Nos. But the police know, so they decide to play along. So if you meet a Dr. No, most likely, it’s an undercover cop.

You know, it’s James Bond, so let’s give it a 10.

Rating: 10/10

Arthur: I don’t watch that many Hollywood movies, you know, because with the kind of work I do, sometimes I have the feeling I’m in one of myself. I once recovered a stolen Picasso worth $US70 ($AU96) million. But before handing it back to the owner, I put it on my wall for one night. So imagine, a stolen Picasso worth $US70 ($AU96) million on my wall. There was only one guy in the world who knows what it is to have these kinds of stone paintings on his wall. So I called Oky, and I said, “You have no idea what’s on my wall,” and he said, “Well, tell me.” And I said, “A stolen Picasso worth $US70 ($AU96) million.” So he went quiet for a few seconds and then he said, “Is there any chance you’re leaving your home tonight?”

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