Stensrud's only option was to move forward with what he had. He didn't have the paintings nor the main member of the team who stole them. He did, however, have enough evidence to prove Tharaldsen drove the getaway car.
Earlier this year, Tharaldsen was sentenced to eight years for hispart in the theft. Was this the end of the road?
Stensrud remained optimistic. 'At no point did I lose hope,' he said. 'I was certain we'd recover the paintings.' Seven weeks ago, in a bizarre international promotional stunt, the makers of M&M's sweets made an announcement: 'Heralding the arrival of M&M's Dark Chocolate candies, the brand is offering a reward of two million M&M's for the return of The Scream.' The next day, the press reported that Toska's legal team had been negotiating with Norway's top prosecutor regarding a possible return of the Munchs.
According to criminal sources, Toska had only just learnt of the location himself. The man who had driven the pictures from the farm under the nose of Stensrud's team had been Toska's best friend and an accomplice in the vault robbery. To date he had evaded the police. However, he had since developed terminal cancer and, from his deathbed, he told Toska's girlfriend where the paintings were hidden.
Toska offered to reveal the location of the world-famous pictures in return for conjugal visits from his girlfriend, better prison conditions, a lighter sentence for a friend and no life sentences for any of his conspirators. The police would only offer him slightly improved prison conditions. Toska decided to divulge the paintings' location anyway.
Ingebjorg Ydstie, acting director of the Munch Museum, was at homeon August 30 when she answered the telephone. It was Stensrud. 'We've got them,' he said. Ydstie recalls, 'I couldn't speak. It was a moment of pure joy.' When she arrived at the police station, Ydstie was rushed to the basement where, laid out on a cloth-covered table, were two of the world's most prized paintings. The Scream had come home.
The details of the recovery of the paintings must remain secret for now as the hunt for the final robber continues.
All that can be revealed is that it was simply a matter of collecting them from a secret location and returning them to the police HQ.
The pictures then went for forensic examination, supervised by a team of art experts. Madonna has two one-inch tears in it, while some of the paint has peeled off The Scream and there is a little damage in one corner. There are also fears that The Scream may have suffered irreparable moisture damage. Last week, they went on display in Oslo for five days before being taken to restorers.
The manufacturers of M&M's have promised to honour their reward. It is not clear whether they have been in contact with chocaholic Toska.
And as for the identity of the final robber, that also remains a mystery.
Underworld sources hint that it was Toska's best friend who died of cancer.
But Stensrud, now assistant chief of police, is unconvinced. Tharaldsen's accomplice in the attack on the money courier, Harnes, is currently serving four years in jail for the crime and will soon be a free man. The police will be taking a very close interest in his post-prison activities.
Paal Enger denies any involvement and Stensrud now believes him. The Munch obsessive has since set himself up as a legitimate art dealer and achieved a lifetime's ambition when he bought an unsigned Munch lithograph.
He was complimented on his purchase by the former head of securityat the National Museum Of Art, who told him, 'Congratulations! You've actually bought a Munch. So much better than stealing one.' *
TRACKING THE MISSING MUNCHS
1988 Vampire, stolen by former footballer Paal Enger, was recovered from his bedroom wall.