It's A Scream: Recounting the Munch Theft

The real story behind the most outrageous art heist of the century

The theft of Munch's [pounds sterling] 50m masterpiece transfixed the world.

But a yearlong investigation by crime writer Kris Hollington reveals the amazing truth - a Pink Panther crime caper that was merely a smokescreen for an even more dastardly plan...

Norwegian film star Thomas 'Rocco' Hansen was in the middle of a shoot at 1:30 a.m. on August 30, 2004, when he heard shouting and then gunfire coming from the plaza below. It was an unwelcome distraction. He was no ordinary actor; he'd just been filming the delicate denouement to his latest oeuvre, Position Impossible II. But he ran out on to the balcony of his flat in Oslo's exclusive docklands apartment complex just in time to see a man turn and empty the clip of a .357 Magnum in the direction of a chasing security guard.

Hansen turned his camera and started to record the action taking place below.

Never has a national police department been so indebted to a porn star.

Down on the ground, one of Norway's most notorious criminals, Lars Harnes, reloaded and started running for the waterfront. Approaching sirens signalled that time was running out. Along with two accomplices, he had just robbed [pounds sterling] 500,000 from a money courier.

The trio, who were all armed and carrying holdalls stuffed with cash, were trying to make it to a getaway boat before the police cut them off.

Harnes, the blond, pony-tailed, tattooed leader of Norway's Bandidos motorcycle gang, had been granted prison leave only the previous week.

Somehow, despite being an exceptionally sadistic criminal, he had persuaded the authorities that he was a reformed character. He had even been allowed to shake the hand of Norway's prime minister as part of an anti-violence initiative. A curious choice, given that he had been jailed for six years for the savage torture of a 29-year-old man who owed him money.

Fellow Bandido Petter Tharaldsen fired a series of shots at the approaching police cars that had driven into the pedestrianised area. Acompact man with a goatee, Tharaldsen had a string of convictions for assault, shootings and robbery. Despite this, he too had managed to convince a court that he would behave while on bail awaiting trial for a 2002 security-van robbery.

When he ran out of bullets, he jumped into a canal and tried to swim for it, but soon gave up. Harnes and the third accomplice were also captured before they could reach their boat.

The police who collared them were well satisfied with their night's work.

But what they didn't realise was that the man they had fished out of the icy waters was behind one of the world's most astonishing art heists. Just eight days earlier, two thieves had stolen Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream from the wall of the Munch Museum in Oslo in broad daylight.

The theft hit the world's headlines and triggered the most expensive police operation in Norway's history. Sadly, as the team under the country's top detective Iver Stensrud battled to get to grips with the task confronting them, they had no idea that one of the culprits was right under their noses.

It is but one remarkable detail in a story so extraordinary - and,in parts, positively comedic - that a film about the heist is to be made, based on my own examination of the tale. I should explain I have made a career investigating some of the world's biggest crimes, from assassinations to drug smuggling and, most memorably, the attempted theft of [pounds sterling] 350 million worth of diamonds from the Millennium Dome in 2000. I can honestly say that none of the remarkable stories comes close to the tale of the theft of The Scream and the subsequent investigation.

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