Effort to nab art thieves isn't neat, pretty

FBI hopes to solve Massachusetts art theft

"However, knowing that the source of the paintings, William Conley, had a dubious reputation in the field, and that according to Patrick Conley, his brother had never attempted to pay-off the loan, made me suspicious," the letter said. "I recall discussing with Patrick Conley the fact that the paintings may or may not be authentic - and that they also could be stolen."

In his interview yesterday, Mr. Vareika said he thought the notion the paintings were stolen was "far-fetched."

After a vacation, the gallery owner returned March 21 and later photographed the paintings and had a colleague familiar with Childe Hassam's work review them.

The colleague called back and said the painting was an authentic Childe Hassam, but the paintings were stolen. Mrs. Persky's husband - former Worcester Knitting Co. president Abraham Persky - bought the Childe Hassam from Knoedler's Gallery in New York in 1945, the letter stated.

The Conleys and Mr. Vareika contacted the FBI after hearing the paintings were stolen. FBI agents from the Providence office then collected the paintings after Mr. Vareika's assistant carefully packaged them. The agents also signed a receipt that they received the paintings.

"I took the paintings to research the authenticity but raised the possibility they were stolen," Mr. Vareika said. "I never thought of the possibility they were stolen. It was so far-fetched."