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Stéphane Breitwieser: The Greatest Art Thief of All Time

Oct 8, 2021
History
-
24
minutes
Crime
True crime
Fraud
France
Eccentric people
European history
Ethics

From 1995 to 2001, a man from eastern France stole 239 different pieces of art from 172 museums, an average of one theft every 14 days.

It's estimated that the value of all the stolen art was over 1 billion Euros, but he never sold a single piece of it.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Stéphane Breitwieser: The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:00:30] This is actually part two of our three part series on Art Theft. Part one was on five of the greatest art thefts of all time, where we covered everything from the theft of the Mona Lisa right through to the theft of a billion dollars’ worth of cultural relics from a museum in Mexico City.

[00:00:50] Then in Part three, which will be another one of our member-only episodes and come out on Tuesday, we will talk about the single greatest art robbery of all time, the robbery of the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston.

[00:01:05] But today we are talking about the greatest art thief of all time, or at least the most prolific, and in my opinion, the most interesting.

[00:01:15] A Frenchman called Stéphane Breitwieser.

[00:01:18] Over the course of a 6 year criminal career he stole almost a billion euros worth of art from museums all over Europe. The strangest part of it all? It’s that he never sold a single piece.

[00:01:33] So, today we are going to learn about this man, how he committed these literally hundreds of robberies, what he did with the stolen art, and most interestingly, why he did what he did, and why he still can’t seem to stop doing it.

[00:01:49] This has been one of my all-time favourite episodes to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:55] OK then, Stéphane Breitwieser, The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:02:02] I should say that, unlike almost every other art thief, we know quite a lot about the life of Stéphane Breitwieser, firstly because he has written a book about his life as an art thief and secondly given extensive interviews, so a lot of what you’ll hear about in today’s episode should be credited directly to that, especially an excellent interview from 2019 with the American magazine GQ.

[00:02:31] So, in the last episode we talked about five of the main reasons that criminals steal art. 

[00:02:39] Broadly they are, firstly, to sell on the black market to make money. 

[00:02:43] Secondly, to be used as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, so that they can use it as a bargaining chip if they are caught by the police and accused of a different crime, they can say “hey, if you let me go I’ll tell you where you can find this Van Gogh, or this Monet”.

[00:03:03] Thirdly, as collateral in drug deals or to be used to get illegal loans.

[00:03:10] Fourth, out of a sense of patriotism, feeling that a particular painting belongs in a particular country.

[00:03:18] And finally, because they personally want the works of art.

[00:03:23] In the case of Stéphane Breitwieser, there is little doubt that he falls into this fifth category.

[00:03:30] Over the course of six and a half years he stole 239 pieces of art from 172 different museums, an average of one theft every 14 days.

[00:03:43] Police estimate that the value of everything he stole was over a billion Euros.

[00:03:50] But unlike most art thieves, he had zero interest in the pieces of art for their monetary value, he simply wanted to have them for himself.

[00:04:01] He never sold a single item, nor did he ever try.

[00:04:06] And while you might now be imagining some glamorous French art thief who lived in a large chateau with beautiful art all over the walls, this was not how Breitwieser lived.

[00:04:20] He lived with his mother in a nondescript house in an industrial city in Eastern France called Mulhouse, near the border with both Switzerland and Germany.

[00:04:31] Breitwieser hadn’t always lived here though, and this will be our first clue into his motivations.

[00:04:39] Until the age of 22 he had lived in more lavish surroundings. His parents both had well-paying jobs, and their house was filled with beautiful antique furniture.

[00:04:53] He had never been a particularly sociable child, and even as a teenager he preferred spending his days at a museum among beautiful objects rather than doing more traditional teenager activities.

[00:05:09] Then when he was 22 years old, his world fell apart.

[00:05:15] His parents divorced suddenly.

[00:05:17] The family house was sold. His father moved out, taking all of the beautiful antique furniture with him.

[00:05:26] Breitweiser stayed with his mother, and they were forced to replace the lovely furniture that he had grown up around with modern, cheaper furniture. 

[00:05:37] For Breitweiser, he felt like he had been robbed, that he deserved to live around beautiful things, and suddenly he was living like, well, a normal person.

[00:05:50] It was at around the same time of his parents' divorce that he met a woman who would become his chief accomplice, his chief partner in crime, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus.

[00:06:02] They fell in love, and before long Kleinklaus had moved in with Breitweiser and his mother.

[00:06:09] Kleinklaus and Breitweiser were, in many ways, two peas in a pod, they were very similar characters.

[00:06:17] Both were introverted and passionate about museums and the beautiful objects that were kept inside them.

[00:06:24] One day, Breitweiser and Kleinklaus were visiting a museum in the small village of Thann, in eastern France and very close to where they lived in Mulhouse.

[00:06:36] And it was to be in this small village museum that he would complete the transition from legal art admirer to illegal art thief.

[00:06:48] In the interview with GQ magazine, Breitweiser describes his feelings as he was about to commit his first crime.

[00:06:57] In the museum he spotted an antique pistol, an old antique gun. Instead of thinking, what a lovely pistol, his first thought was that he should have one of those for himself. His father had a collection of antique pistols, but when his parents divorced his father had taken them all with him.

[00:07:21] Breitwieser knew that he shouldn’t steal it, but he couldn’t resist it. He wanted it so badly, and it seemed like he wouldn’t be caught.

[00:07:30] There were no cameras, no guards, no alarms. He was carrying a backpack, and it would be very easy to just pick up the pistol and carry it away with him.

[00:07:43] He asked Kleinklaus what he should do, and she encouraged him, saying “Go on, take it”.

[00:07:50] He picked it up, put it in his backpack, and calmly walked out of the museum.

[00:07:56] Now when you hear the term “the greatest art thief of all time”, this is probably not how you imagine the thefts to happen.

[00:08:05] In the last episode we heard about thieves rushing into galleries with machine guns or smashing windows and running away with paintings.

[00:08:14] Breitweiser never did any of this.

[00:08:18] He was, in almost every way, an unusual art thief.

[00:08:23] He never snuck into a museum, he never made his way into a museum or gallery without permission. He would buy a ticket and just go in.

[00:08:34] He never used violence, and never threatened anyone. The only guns he had were antiques, and they were purely for display purposes.

[00:08:44] He never used disguise, fake moustaches, masks, or stockings over his face. He would wear his normal clothes.

[00:08:53] He didn’t even wear gloves, and he didn’t seem worried about leaving fingerprints.

[00:08:59] Unusual for the greatest art thief of all time, but he certainly knew what he was doing.

[00:09:06] He would meticulously research the objects that he wanted to take, and the museums they were located in.

[00:09:13] He knew when guards would change, he knew which cameras were real and which were fake, he knew how to take objects out of their cases, and he knew never to steal any incredibly valuable object, because that was a surefire way of being caught.

[00:09:31] He also had a valuable and loyal accomplice: Kleinklaus.

[00:09:37] While Breitweiser was stealing an object, Kleinklaus would stand by a door, pretending to be looking at another object in the gallery. If anyone was coming into the room she would cough, and Breitweiser would immediately stop what he was doing.

[00:09:56] These thefts would often take a long time. Breitweiser would find the object of his desires, but it might be locked in a glass cabinet.

[00:10:07] A violent thief might just smash the glass and run out of the gallery with the object, but not Breitweiser. He carried a little Swiss Army Knife on him with a screwdriver on it, and would unscrew the glass case and remove the object.

[00:10:26] Of course, this would often take some time, so he would start turning the screwdriver, then Kleinklaus would hear someone coming and cough, Breitweiser would move away from the object, and only return to it when the person had left the room.

[00:10:43] He would purposefully choose smaller, less popular museums, and less famous works of art.

[00:10:51] Fewer people meant the actual theft was easier, because it was more common to find a room empty.

[00:10:58] And less famous works of art meant firstly that they weren’t as well protected, be it security guards, alarm systems, or being locked away behind difficult to open protective cases, but it also meant that in many cases the gallery wouldn’t find out about the theft until several days after it had taken place.

[00:11:22] As we heard about in the last episode on the Greatest Art Thefts of All Time, and if you know the story of the Mona Lisa theft, works of art are often removed from their normal places because they are given out on loan to other galleries, or they are taken away for restoration, maintenance, or to be studied by collectors. 

[00:11:44] Galleries aren’t always very good at keeping track of the pieces of art inside them.

[00:11:49] Breitwieser knew this all too well, and sometimes would even bring with him little paper cards saying “Objects removed for study”. After he removed a precious object he would replace it with one of these cards, so that the museum guards would see the object missing, but reasonably assume that it had been legitimately removed.

[00:12:14] In this extensive interview with GQ magazine he recounts the story of using this tactic, then returning to the museum he had stolen from two weeks later and seeing the empty case still there, complete with the cards saying “Objects removed for study” - two weeks later and the museum hadn’t noticed.

[00:12:37] Within a few years Breitweiser and Kleinklaus' stolen collection contained over a hundred unique pieces of art, and the only two people who knew of its existence were Breitwieser and Kleinklaus themselves. 

[00:12:52] It’s not even clear if Breitwieser’s mother, who has never spoken publicly about her son, it’s not even clear if she knew exactly what her son was doing.

[00:13:04] Perhaps one of the great ironies of this was that, although they had stolen hundreds of millions of Euros worth of art, they were broke, they were poor, they were always struggling for money.

[00:13:18] To pay for normal life, food, petrol, museum tickets, Breitwieser worked occasionally as a waiter. 

[00:13:26] He describes deciding how to get to an art fair in Zurich, where he plans to walk away with hundreds of thousands of Euros in stolen art, but he plans his journey to avoid toll roads, to avoid travelling on roads he has to pay for.

[00:13:44] Indeed, Breitweiser is certainly considered in a very different category to the kind of thief who breaks into a museum with a gun, and then rolls up a painting under their arm to sell to the highest bidder.

[00:13:58] Breitwieser was, and still is, as we’ll find out, hopelessly addicted to art theft. 

[00:14:05] He simply couldn’t stop.

[00:14:07] Whether it was the actual act of stealing that gave him such a thrill or the fact that he wanted to possess the art for himself, it is anyone’s guess, but he simply could not stop.

[00:14:21] The risk of being caught didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest.

[00:14:26] He had multiple close encounters with the police: policemen giving him a parking ticket as he returned to his car with stolen artwork, and accidentally breaking a glass container when he was trying to remove a work of art.

[00:14:42] It was only in 1997, two years after his first theft, that he had his closest call, his most serious encounter with the law.

[00:14:51] When visiting a gallery in Lucerne, Switzerland, the pair was actually arrested. 

[00:14:58] Breitwieser was seen by a museum employee walking out with a painting under his arm; they were both stopped and taken to a police station.

[00:15:09] They managed to persuade the police officers that this was their first time stealing, and the policemen believed them. Their fingerprints were taken, and they were released without charge.

[00:15:21] This was the first time they had ever actually been caught, and they couldn’t believe their luck at having been released.

[00:15:30] Of course, over the previous couple of years after all of his prior thefts, galleries had reported them to the police. 

[00:15:38] But because the galleries they chose to rob tended to have quite poor security, often with no security cameras, and in many cases the galleries didn’t know exactly when the works of art had been stolen, the police didn’t have any real idea who Breitwieser and Kleinklaus were, or the scale of the theft that they had committed.

[00:16:03] Now, things were different. 

[00:16:05] The Swiss police had their fingerprints, and if they were caught again they could be linked back to this crime. 

[00:16:13] The situation was certainly more serious.

[00:16:16] They promised each other never to return to Switzerland, and Kleinklaus made Breitwieser promise to always wear gloves in the future, so that he left no fingerprints.

[00:16:28] Breitwieser agreed to do so, but the scale and boldness of his thefts only continued to increase. 

[00:16:37] He seemed to not care any more, to think he was invincible

[00:16:42] And tensions were growing between Breitwieser and Kleinklaus. She was hoping to start a family, to live an honest life, to be normal. 

[00:16:53] But he showed no sign of wanting to change.

[00:16:57] In November of 2001, he returned home and admitted to having done what they had both sworn never to do again.

[00:17:07] He had stolen a musical instrument called a bugle from a museum in Switzerland, and he admitted that he didn’t use gloves. 

[00:17:17] His fingerprints would be all over the case, and if the police were called and they took fingerprints, it would be linked straight back to Breitwieser and Kleinklaus.

[00:17:28] They rushed back to the museum. Kleinklaus said that it was too risky for Breitwieser to go into the scene of the crime, and that he should wait outside in their car.

[00:17:40] She went into the museum with products to wipe off the fingerprints, but Breitwieser didn't obey his orders to stay in the car.

[00:17:50] He stepped out, walked around the museum, trying to look inside to see how Kleinklaus was getting on

[00:17:59] Unknown to Breitwieser, there was a man walking his dog outside the museum who had read about the theft in the newspaper. He went inside, mentioned to the person behind the desk that there was a man acting suspiciously, the person recognised Breitwieser, the police were called and Breitwieser was arrested.

[00:18:22] Crucially, Kleinklaus is not arrested, she isn’t even linked to Breitwieser, and so she is able to travel back home.

[00:18:31] He first denies everything, but later admits to the bugle, saying that he had no money and only wanted to give his mother a nice Christmas present. 

[00:18:41] The police then link Breitwieser to the previous crime four years ago.

[00:18:47] Suddenly the police realise that perhaps he isn't just a small-time thief trying his luck. 

[00:18:55] Breitwieser denies that he is anything more than an opportunist thief, but the police don’t believe him. They manage to get an international search warrant to search his house in France, to see if the stolen art is there. 

[00:19:11] Four weeks after his arrest, the police arrive at Breitwieser’s mother’s house. They are shown to Breitwieser’s room in the attic. They open the door, no doubt waiting expectantly, but the room is completely empty apart from a bed.

[00:19:28] The true extent of Breitwieser’s crimes are still hidden to the police, but he is kept in police custody, he is held in the police station for another month and a half. 

[00:19:40] He becomes desperate, and when he is taken in for further questioning, he starts to crumble.

[00:19:47] The detective shows Breitwieser a picture of a medal, telling him that he knows he stole it.

[00:19:54] Breitwieser admits to it.

[00:19:56] Then the detective pulls out another pile of pictures of stolen goods.

[00:20:01] He puts them in front of Breitwieser, and one by one Breitwieser admits to stealing all of them.

[00:20:08] It turns out that they had been found in a canal near Breitwieser’s mother’s house. 

[00:20:14] What detectives now believe happened is that Kleinklaus returned home after Breitwieser was arrested, confessed everything to Breitwieser’s mother, and the pair of them took all of the stolen works of art and essentially threw them away, they tried to hide the evidence of the thefts.

[00:20:36] Some were thrown in a canal, others in a forest, and many paintings were cut up and left in rubbish bags.

[00:20:45] To this day, it’s not clear exactly how much has ever been recovered, and estimates are that around 60% of the works that Breitwieser and Kleinklaus stole were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

[00:21:00] After spending four years in a Swiss jail, Breitwieser spent another two and a half in France.

[00:21:07] His mother was sentenced to three years for destroying the artwork, but she only served half of her sentence.

[00:21:16] And as for Kleinklaus, she was sentenced to 18 months but only served six.

[00:21:23] If you were thinking that Breitwieser had probably learned his lesson, and his days of stealing art were behind him, you’d be wrong. 

[00:21:32] In 2011, only a few years after being released from prison, police found another 30 pieces of stolen art, and he was sent back to prison for another three years.

[00:21:45] After he got out from his second time in prison, he was being watched closely by the police, but yet again he was caught, this time trying to sell stolen art on eBay.

[00:21:57] Tragically, this arrest came in February 2019, the same month as the extended interview with him in GQ magazine, which described how he wept, he cried profusely, about not being able to steal ever again.

[00:22:14] It seems that Stéphane Breitwieser, despite being the world’s best known art thief and being responsible for the thefts of over a billion Euros worth of art, just simply cannot stop.

[00:22:29] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Stéphane Breitwieser: The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:22:37] As a quick reminder, this was part two of our three-part series on Art Theft. In part one we went through five of the most famous art thefts of all time, and in part three, which will be coming out next, we’ll learn about the amazing story of the The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbery.

[00:22:57] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:00] Breitwieser was obviously a thief and a criminal. But there is debate about the severity of his crimes. 

[00:23:08] He stole a billion Euros of art, but he wasn’t trying to sell it, he simply wanted it for himself.

[00:23:17] Does this change how we view his crime? Does this make it worse, better, or does it simply not matter?

[00:23:23] I would love to know what you think.

[00:23:25] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.


[00:23:35] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:41] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Stéphane Breitwieser: The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:00:30] This is actually part two of our three part series on Art Theft. Part one was on five of the greatest art thefts of all time, where we covered everything from the theft of the Mona Lisa right through to the theft of a billion dollars’ worth of cultural relics from a museum in Mexico City.

[00:00:50] Then in Part three, which will be another one of our member-only episodes and come out on Tuesday, we will talk about the single greatest art robbery of all time, the robbery of the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston.

[00:01:05] But today we are talking about the greatest art thief of all time, or at least the most prolific, and in my opinion, the most interesting.

[00:01:15] A Frenchman called Stéphane Breitwieser.

[00:01:18] Over the course of a 6 year criminal career he stole almost a billion euros worth of art from museums all over Europe. The strangest part of it all? It’s that he never sold a single piece.

[00:01:33] So, today we are going to learn about this man, how he committed these literally hundreds of robberies, what he did with the stolen art, and most interestingly, why he did what he did, and why he still can’t seem to stop doing it.

[00:01:49] This has been one of my all-time favourite episodes to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:55] OK then, Stéphane Breitwieser, The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:02:02] I should say that, unlike almost every other art thief, we know quite a lot about the life of Stéphane Breitwieser, firstly because he has written a book about his life as an art thief and secondly given extensive interviews, so a lot of what you’ll hear about in today’s episode should be credited directly to that, especially an excellent interview from 2019 with the American magazine GQ.

[00:02:31] So, in the last episode we talked about five of the main reasons that criminals steal art. 

[00:02:39] Broadly they are, firstly, to sell on the black market to make money. 

[00:02:43] Secondly, to be used as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, so that they can use it as a bargaining chip if they are caught by the police and accused of a different crime, they can say “hey, if you let me go I’ll tell you where you can find this Van Gogh, or this Monet”.

[00:03:03] Thirdly, as collateral in drug deals or to be used to get illegal loans.

[00:03:10] Fourth, out of a sense of patriotism, feeling that a particular painting belongs in a particular country.

[00:03:18] And finally, because they personally want the works of art.

[00:03:23] In the case of Stéphane Breitwieser, there is little doubt that he falls into this fifth category.

[00:03:30] Over the course of six and a half years he stole 239 pieces of art from 172 different museums, an average of one theft every 14 days.

[00:03:43] Police estimate that the value of everything he stole was over a billion Euros.

[00:03:50] But unlike most art thieves, he had zero interest in the pieces of art for their monetary value, he simply wanted to have them for himself.

[00:04:01] He never sold a single item, nor did he ever try.

[00:04:06] And while you might now be imagining some glamorous French art thief who lived in a large chateau with beautiful art all over the walls, this was not how Breitwieser lived.

[00:04:20] He lived with his mother in a nondescript house in an industrial city in Eastern France called Mulhouse, near the border with both Switzerland and Germany.

[00:04:31] Breitwieser hadn’t always lived here though, and this will be our first clue into his motivations.

[00:04:39] Until the age of 22 he had lived in more lavish surroundings. His parents both had well-paying jobs, and their house was filled with beautiful antique furniture.

[00:04:53] He had never been a particularly sociable child, and even as a teenager he preferred spending his days at a museum among beautiful objects rather than doing more traditional teenager activities.

[00:05:09] Then when he was 22 years old, his world fell apart.

[00:05:15] His parents divorced suddenly.

[00:05:17] The family house was sold. His father moved out, taking all of the beautiful antique furniture with him.

[00:05:26] Breitweiser stayed with his mother, and they were forced to replace the lovely furniture that he had grown up around with modern, cheaper furniture. 

[00:05:37] For Breitweiser, he felt like he had been robbed, that he deserved to live around beautiful things, and suddenly he was living like, well, a normal person.

[00:05:50] It was at around the same time of his parents' divorce that he met a woman who would become his chief accomplice, his chief partner in crime, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus.

[00:06:02] They fell in love, and before long Kleinklaus had moved in with Breitweiser and his mother.

[00:06:09] Kleinklaus and Breitweiser were, in many ways, two peas in a pod, they were very similar characters.

[00:06:17] Both were introverted and passionate about museums and the beautiful objects that were kept inside them.

[00:06:24] One day, Breitweiser and Kleinklaus were visiting a museum in the small village of Thann, in eastern France and very close to where they lived in Mulhouse.

[00:06:36] And it was to be in this small village museum that he would complete the transition from legal art admirer to illegal art thief.

[00:06:48] In the interview with GQ magazine, Breitweiser describes his feelings as he was about to commit his first crime.

[00:06:57] In the museum he spotted an antique pistol, an old antique gun. Instead of thinking, what a lovely pistol, his first thought was that he should have one of those for himself. His father had a collection of antique pistols, but when his parents divorced his father had taken them all with him.

[00:07:21] Breitwieser knew that he shouldn’t steal it, but he couldn’t resist it. He wanted it so badly, and it seemed like he wouldn’t be caught.

[00:07:30] There were no cameras, no guards, no alarms. He was carrying a backpack, and it would be very easy to just pick up the pistol and carry it away with him.

[00:07:43] He asked Kleinklaus what he should do, and she encouraged him, saying “Go on, take it”.

[00:07:50] He picked it up, put it in his backpack, and calmly walked out of the museum.

[00:07:56] Now when you hear the term “the greatest art thief of all time”, this is probably not how you imagine the thefts to happen.

[00:08:05] In the last episode we heard about thieves rushing into galleries with machine guns or smashing windows and running away with paintings.

[00:08:14] Breitweiser never did any of this.

[00:08:18] He was, in almost every way, an unusual art thief.

[00:08:23] He never snuck into a museum, he never made his way into a museum or gallery without permission. He would buy a ticket and just go in.

[00:08:34] He never used violence, and never threatened anyone. The only guns he had were antiques, and they were purely for display purposes.

[00:08:44] He never used disguise, fake moustaches, masks, or stockings over his face. He would wear his normal clothes.

[00:08:53] He didn’t even wear gloves, and he didn’t seem worried about leaving fingerprints.

[00:08:59] Unusual for the greatest art thief of all time, but he certainly knew what he was doing.

[00:09:06] He would meticulously research the objects that he wanted to take, and the museums they were located in.

[00:09:13] He knew when guards would change, he knew which cameras were real and which were fake, he knew how to take objects out of their cases, and he knew never to steal any incredibly valuable object, because that was a surefire way of being caught.

[00:09:31] He also had a valuable and loyal accomplice: Kleinklaus.

[00:09:37] While Breitweiser was stealing an object, Kleinklaus would stand by a door, pretending to be looking at another object in the gallery. If anyone was coming into the room she would cough, and Breitweiser would immediately stop what he was doing.

[00:09:56] These thefts would often take a long time. Breitweiser would find the object of his desires, but it might be locked in a glass cabinet.

[00:10:07] A violent thief might just smash the glass and run out of the gallery with the object, but not Breitweiser. He carried a little Swiss Army Knife on him with a screwdriver on it, and would unscrew the glass case and remove the object.

[00:10:26] Of course, this would often take some time, so he would start turning the screwdriver, then Kleinklaus would hear someone coming and cough, Breitweiser would move away from the object, and only return to it when the person had left the room.

[00:10:43] He would purposefully choose smaller, less popular museums, and less famous works of art.

[00:10:51] Fewer people meant the actual theft was easier, because it was more common to find a room empty.

[00:10:58] And less famous works of art meant firstly that they weren’t as well protected, be it security guards, alarm systems, or being locked away behind difficult to open protective cases, but it also meant that in many cases the gallery wouldn’t find out about the theft until several days after it had taken place.

[00:11:22] As we heard about in the last episode on the Greatest Art Thefts of All Time, and if you know the story of the Mona Lisa theft, works of art are often removed from their normal places because they are given out on loan to other galleries, or they are taken away for restoration, maintenance, or to be studied by collectors. 

[00:11:44] Galleries aren’t always very good at keeping track of the pieces of art inside them.

[00:11:49] Breitwieser knew this all too well, and sometimes would even bring with him little paper cards saying “Objects removed for study”. After he removed a precious object he would replace it with one of these cards, so that the museum guards would see the object missing, but reasonably assume that it had been legitimately removed.

[00:12:14] In this extensive interview with GQ magazine he recounts the story of using this tactic, then returning to the museum he had stolen from two weeks later and seeing the empty case still there, complete with the cards saying “Objects removed for study” - two weeks later and the museum hadn’t noticed.

[00:12:37] Within a few years Breitweiser and Kleinklaus' stolen collection contained over a hundred unique pieces of art, and the only two people who knew of its existence were Breitwieser and Kleinklaus themselves. 

[00:12:52] It’s not even clear if Breitwieser’s mother, who has never spoken publicly about her son, it’s not even clear if she knew exactly what her son was doing.

[00:13:04] Perhaps one of the great ironies of this was that, although they had stolen hundreds of millions of Euros worth of art, they were broke, they were poor, they were always struggling for money.

[00:13:18] To pay for normal life, food, petrol, museum tickets, Breitwieser worked occasionally as a waiter. 

[00:13:26] He describes deciding how to get to an art fair in Zurich, where he plans to walk away with hundreds of thousands of Euros in stolen art, but he plans his journey to avoid toll roads, to avoid travelling on roads he has to pay for.

[00:13:44] Indeed, Breitweiser is certainly considered in a very different category to the kind of thief who breaks into a museum with a gun, and then rolls up a painting under their arm to sell to the highest bidder.

[00:13:58] Breitwieser was, and still is, as we’ll find out, hopelessly addicted to art theft. 

[00:14:05] He simply couldn’t stop.

[00:14:07] Whether it was the actual act of stealing that gave him such a thrill or the fact that he wanted to possess the art for himself, it is anyone’s guess, but he simply could not stop.

[00:14:21] The risk of being caught didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest.

[00:14:26] He had multiple close encounters with the police: policemen giving him a parking ticket as he returned to his car with stolen artwork, and accidentally breaking a glass container when he was trying to remove a work of art.

[00:14:42] It was only in 1997, two years after his first theft, that he had his closest call, his most serious encounter with the law.

[00:14:51] When visiting a gallery in Lucerne, Switzerland, the pair was actually arrested. 

[00:14:58] Breitwieser was seen by a museum employee walking out with a painting under his arm; they were both stopped and taken to a police station.

[00:15:09] They managed to persuade the police officers that this was their first time stealing, and the policemen believed them. Their fingerprints were taken, and they were released without charge.

[00:15:21] This was the first time they had ever actually been caught, and they couldn’t believe their luck at having been released.

[00:15:30] Of course, over the previous couple of years after all of his prior thefts, galleries had reported them to the police. 

[00:15:38] But because the galleries they chose to rob tended to have quite poor security, often with no security cameras, and in many cases the galleries didn’t know exactly when the works of art had been stolen, the police didn’t have any real idea who Breitwieser and Kleinklaus were, or the scale of the theft that they had committed.

[00:16:03] Now, things were different. 

[00:16:05] The Swiss police had their fingerprints, and if they were caught again they could be linked back to this crime. 

[00:16:13] The situation was certainly more serious.

[00:16:16] They promised each other never to return to Switzerland, and Kleinklaus made Breitwieser promise to always wear gloves in the future, so that he left no fingerprints.

[00:16:28] Breitwieser agreed to do so, but the scale and boldness of his thefts only continued to increase. 

[00:16:37] He seemed to not care any more, to think he was invincible

[00:16:42] And tensions were growing between Breitwieser and Kleinklaus. She was hoping to start a family, to live an honest life, to be normal. 

[00:16:53] But he showed no sign of wanting to change.

[00:16:57] In November of 2001, he returned home and admitted to having done what they had both sworn never to do again.

[00:17:07] He had stolen a musical instrument called a bugle from a museum in Switzerland, and he admitted that he didn’t use gloves. 

[00:17:17] His fingerprints would be all over the case, and if the police were called and they took fingerprints, it would be linked straight back to Breitwieser and Kleinklaus.

[00:17:28] They rushed back to the museum. Kleinklaus said that it was too risky for Breitwieser to go into the scene of the crime, and that he should wait outside in their car.

[00:17:40] She went into the museum with products to wipe off the fingerprints, but Breitwieser didn't obey his orders to stay in the car.

[00:17:50] He stepped out, walked around the museum, trying to look inside to see how Kleinklaus was getting on

[00:17:59] Unknown to Breitwieser, there was a man walking his dog outside the museum who had read about the theft in the newspaper. He went inside, mentioned to the person behind the desk that there was a man acting suspiciously, the person recognised Breitwieser, the police were called and Breitwieser was arrested.

[00:18:22] Crucially, Kleinklaus is not arrested, she isn’t even linked to Breitwieser, and so she is able to travel back home.

[00:18:31] He first denies everything, but later admits to the bugle, saying that he had no money and only wanted to give his mother a nice Christmas present. 

[00:18:41] The police then link Breitwieser to the previous crime four years ago.

[00:18:47] Suddenly the police realise that perhaps he isn't just a small-time thief trying his luck. 

[00:18:55] Breitwieser denies that he is anything more than an opportunist thief, but the police don’t believe him. They manage to get an international search warrant to search his house in France, to see if the stolen art is there. 

[00:19:11] Four weeks after his arrest, the police arrive at Breitwieser’s mother’s house. They are shown to Breitwieser’s room in the attic. They open the door, no doubt waiting expectantly, but the room is completely empty apart from a bed.

[00:19:28] The true extent of Breitwieser’s crimes are still hidden to the police, but he is kept in police custody, he is held in the police station for another month and a half. 

[00:19:40] He becomes desperate, and when he is taken in for further questioning, he starts to crumble.

[00:19:47] The detective shows Breitwieser a picture of a medal, telling him that he knows he stole it.

[00:19:54] Breitwieser admits to it.

[00:19:56] Then the detective pulls out another pile of pictures of stolen goods.

[00:20:01] He puts them in front of Breitwieser, and one by one Breitwieser admits to stealing all of them.

[00:20:08] It turns out that they had been found in a canal near Breitwieser’s mother’s house. 

[00:20:14] What detectives now believe happened is that Kleinklaus returned home after Breitwieser was arrested, confessed everything to Breitwieser’s mother, and the pair of them took all of the stolen works of art and essentially threw them away, they tried to hide the evidence of the thefts.

[00:20:36] Some were thrown in a canal, others in a forest, and many paintings were cut up and left in rubbish bags.

[00:20:45] To this day, it’s not clear exactly how much has ever been recovered, and estimates are that around 60% of the works that Breitwieser and Kleinklaus stole were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

[00:21:00] After spending four years in a Swiss jail, Breitwieser spent another two and a half in France.

[00:21:07] His mother was sentenced to three years for destroying the artwork, but she only served half of her sentence.

[00:21:16] And as for Kleinklaus, she was sentenced to 18 months but only served six.

[00:21:23] If you were thinking that Breitwieser had probably learned his lesson, and his days of stealing art were behind him, you’d be wrong. 

[00:21:32] In 2011, only a few years after being released from prison, police found another 30 pieces of stolen art, and he was sent back to prison for another three years.

[00:21:45] After he got out from his second time in prison, he was being watched closely by the police, but yet again he was caught, this time trying to sell stolen art on eBay.

[00:21:57] Tragically, this arrest came in February 2019, the same month as the extended interview with him in GQ magazine, which described how he wept, he cried profusely, about not being able to steal ever again.

[00:22:14] It seems that Stéphane Breitwieser, despite being the world’s best known art thief and being responsible for the thefts of over a billion Euros worth of art, just simply cannot stop.

[00:22:29] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Stéphane Breitwieser: The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:22:37] As a quick reminder, this was part two of our three-part series on Art Theft. In part one we went through five of the most famous art thefts of all time, and in part three, which will be coming out next, we’ll learn about the amazing story of the The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbery.

[00:22:57] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:00] Breitwieser was obviously a thief and a criminal. But there is debate about the severity of his crimes. 

[00:23:08] He stole a billion Euros of art, but he wasn’t trying to sell it, he simply wanted it for himself.

[00:23:17] Does this change how we view his crime? Does this make it worse, better, or does it simply not matter?

[00:23:23] I would love to know what you think.

[00:23:25] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.


[00:23:35] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:41] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Stéphane Breitwieser: The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:00:30] This is actually part two of our three part series on Art Theft. Part one was on five of the greatest art thefts of all time, where we covered everything from the theft of the Mona Lisa right through to the theft of a billion dollars’ worth of cultural relics from a museum in Mexico City.

[00:00:50] Then in Part three, which will be another one of our member-only episodes and come out on Tuesday, we will talk about the single greatest art robbery of all time, the robbery of the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston.

[00:01:05] But today we are talking about the greatest art thief of all time, or at least the most prolific, and in my opinion, the most interesting.

[00:01:15] A Frenchman called Stéphane Breitwieser.

[00:01:18] Over the course of a 6 year criminal career he stole almost a billion euros worth of art from museums all over Europe. The strangest part of it all? It’s that he never sold a single piece.

[00:01:33] So, today we are going to learn about this man, how he committed these literally hundreds of robberies, what he did with the stolen art, and most interestingly, why he did what he did, and why he still can’t seem to stop doing it.

[00:01:49] This has been one of my all-time favourite episodes to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:55] OK then, Stéphane Breitwieser, The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:02:02] I should say that, unlike almost every other art thief, we know quite a lot about the life of Stéphane Breitwieser, firstly because he has written a book about his life as an art thief and secondly given extensive interviews, so a lot of what you’ll hear about in today’s episode should be credited directly to that, especially an excellent interview from 2019 with the American magazine GQ.

[00:02:31] So, in the last episode we talked about five of the main reasons that criminals steal art. 

[00:02:39] Broadly they are, firstly, to sell on the black market to make money. 

[00:02:43] Secondly, to be used as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, so that they can use it as a bargaining chip if they are caught by the police and accused of a different crime, they can say “hey, if you let me go I’ll tell you where you can find this Van Gogh, or this Monet”.

[00:03:03] Thirdly, as collateral in drug deals or to be used to get illegal loans.

[00:03:10] Fourth, out of a sense of patriotism, feeling that a particular painting belongs in a particular country.

[00:03:18] And finally, because they personally want the works of art.

[00:03:23] In the case of Stéphane Breitwieser, there is little doubt that he falls into this fifth category.

[00:03:30] Over the course of six and a half years he stole 239 pieces of art from 172 different museums, an average of one theft every 14 days.

[00:03:43] Police estimate that the value of everything he stole was over a billion Euros.

[00:03:50] But unlike most art thieves, he had zero interest in the pieces of art for their monetary value, he simply wanted to have them for himself.

[00:04:01] He never sold a single item, nor did he ever try.

[00:04:06] And while you might now be imagining some glamorous French art thief who lived in a large chateau with beautiful art all over the walls, this was not how Breitwieser lived.

[00:04:20] He lived with his mother in a nondescript house in an industrial city in Eastern France called Mulhouse, near the border with both Switzerland and Germany.

[00:04:31] Breitwieser hadn’t always lived here though, and this will be our first clue into his motivations.

[00:04:39] Until the age of 22 he had lived in more lavish surroundings. His parents both had well-paying jobs, and their house was filled with beautiful antique furniture.

[00:04:53] He had never been a particularly sociable child, and even as a teenager he preferred spending his days at a museum among beautiful objects rather than doing more traditional teenager activities.

[00:05:09] Then when he was 22 years old, his world fell apart.

[00:05:15] His parents divorced suddenly.

[00:05:17] The family house was sold. His father moved out, taking all of the beautiful antique furniture with him.

[00:05:26] Breitweiser stayed with his mother, and they were forced to replace the lovely furniture that he had grown up around with modern, cheaper furniture. 

[00:05:37] For Breitweiser, he felt like he had been robbed, that he deserved to live around beautiful things, and suddenly he was living like, well, a normal person.

[00:05:50] It was at around the same time of his parents' divorce that he met a woman who would become his chief accomplice, his chief partner in crime, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus.

[00:06:02] They fell in love, and before long Kleinklaus had moved in with Breitweiser and his mother.

[00:06:09] Kleinklaus and Breitweiser were, in many ways, two peas in a pod, they were very similar characters.

[00:06:17] Both were introverted and passionate about museums and the beautiful objects that were kept inside them.

[00:06:24] One day, Breitweiser and Kleinklaus were visiting a museum in the small village of Thann, in eastern France and very close to where they lived in Mulhouse.

[00:06:36] And it was to be in this small village museum that he would complete the transition from legal art admirer to illegal art thief.

[00:06:48] In the interview with GQ magazine, Breitweiser describes his feelings as he was about to commit his first crime.

[00:06:57] In the museum he spotted an antique pistol, an old antique gun. Instead of thinking, what a lovely pistol, his first thought was that he should have one of those for himself. His father had a collection of antique pistols, but when his parents divorced his father had taken them all with him.

[00:07:21] Breitwieser knew that he shouldn’t steal it, but he couldn’t resist it. He wanted it so badly, and it seemed like he wouldn’t be caught.

[00:07:30] There were no cameras, no guards, no alarms. He was carrying a backpack, and it would be very easy to just pick up the pistol and carry it away with him.

[00:07:43] He asked Kleinklaus what he should do, and she encouraged him, saying “Go on, take it”.

[00:07:50] He picked it up, put it in his backpack, and calmly walked out of the museum.

[00:07:56] Now when you hear the term “the greatest art thief of all time”, this is probably not how you imagine the thefts to happen.

[00:08:05] In the last episode we heard about thieves rushing into galleries with machine guns or smashing windows and running away with paintings.

[00:08:14] Breitweiser never did any of this.

[00:08:18] He was, in almost every way, an unusual art thief.

[00:08:23] He never snuck into a museum, he never made his way into a museum or gallery without permission. He would buy a ticket and just go in.

[00:08:34] He never used violence, and never threatened anyone. The only guns he had were antiques, and they were purely for display purposes.

[00:08:44] He never used disguise, fake moustaches, masks, or stockings over his face. He would wear his normal clothes.

[00:08:53] He didn’t even wear gloves, and he didn’t seem worried about leaving fingerprints.

[00:08:59] Unusual for the greatest art thief of all time, but he certainly knew what he was doing.

[00:09:06] He would meticulously research the objects that he wanted to take, and the museums they were located in.

[00:09:13] He knew when guards would change, he knew which cameras were real and which were fake, he knew how to take objects out of their cases, and he knew never to steal any incredibly valuable object, because that was a surefire way of being caught.

[00:09:31] He also had a valuable and loyal accomplice: Kleinklaus.

[00:09:37] While Breitweiser was stealing an object, Kleinklaus would stand by a door, pretending to be looking at another object in the gallery. If anyone was coming into the room she would cough, and Breitweiser would immediately stop what he was doing.

[00:09:56] These thefts would often take a long time. Breitweiser would find the object of his desires, but it might be locked in a glass cabinet.

[00:10:07] A violent thief might just smash the glass and run out of the gallery with the object, but not Breitweiser. He carried a little Swiss Army Knife on him with a screwdriver on it, and would unscrew the glass case and remove the object.

[00:10:26] Of course, this would often take some time, so he would start turning the screwdriver, then Kleinklaus would hear someone coming and cough, Breitweiser would move away from the object, and only return to it when the person had left the room.

[00:10:43] He would purposefully choose smaller, less popular museums, and less famous works of art.

[00:10:51] Fewer people meant the actual theft was easier, because it was more common to find a room empty.

[00:10:58] And less famous works of art meant firstly that they weren’t as well protected, be it security guards, alarm systems, or being locked away behind difficult to open protective cases, but it also meant that in many cases the gallery wouldn’t find out about the theft until several days after it had taken place.

[00:11:22] As we heard about in the last episode on the Greatest Art Thefts of All Time, and if you know the story of the Mona Lisa theft, works of art are often removed from their normal places because they are given out on loan to other galleries, or they are taken away for restoration, maintenance, or to be studied by collectors. 

[00:11:44] Galleries aren’t always very good at keeping track of the pieces of art inside them.

[00:11:49] Breitwieser knew this all too well, and sometimes would even bring with him little paper cards saying “Objects removed for study”. After he removed a precious object he would replace it with one of these cards, so that the museum guards would see the object missing, but reasonably assume that it had been legitimately removed.

[00:12:14] In this extensive interview with GQ magazine he recounts the story of using this tactic, then returning to the museum he had stolen from two weeks later and seeing the empty case still there, complete with the cards saying “Objects removed for study” - two weeks later and the museum hadn’t noticed.

[00:12:37] Within a few years Breitweiser and Kleinklaus' stolen collection contained over a hundred unique pieces of art, and the only two people who knew of its existence were Breitwieser and Kleinklaus themselves. 

[00:12:52] It’s not even clear if Breitwieser’s mother, who has never spoken publicly about her son, it’s not even clear if she knew exactly what her son was doing.

[00:13:04] Perhaps one of the great ironies of this was that, although they had stolen hundreds of millions of Euros worth of art, they were broke, they were poor, they were always struggling for money.

[00:13:18] To pay for normal life, food, petrol, museum tickets, Breitwieser worked occasionally as a waiter. 

[00:13:26] He describes deciding how to get to an art fair in Zurich, where he plans to walk away with hundreds of thousands of Euros in stolen art, but he plans his journey to avoid toll roads, to avoid travelling on roads he has to pay for.

[00:13:44] Indeed, Breitweiser is certainly considered in a very different category to the kind of thief who breaks into a museum with a gun, and then rolls up a painting under their arm to sell to the highest bidder.

[00:13:58] Breitwieser was, and still is, as we’ll find out, hopelessly addicted to art theft. 

[00:14:05] He simply couldn’t stop.

[00:14:07] Whether it was the actual act of stealing that gave him such a thrill or the fact that he wanted to possess the art for himself, it is anyone’s guess, but he simply could not stop.

[00:14:21] The risk of being caught didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest.

[00:14:26] He had multiple close encounters with the police: policemen giving him a parking ticket as he returned to his car with stolen artwork, and accidentally breaking a glass container when he was trying to remove a work of art.

[00:14:42] It was only in 1997, two years after his first theft, that he had his closest call, his most serious encounter with the law.

[00:14:51] When visiting a gallery in Lucerne, Switzerland, the pair was actually arrested. 

[00:14:58] Breitwieser was seen by a museum employee walking out with a painting under his arm; they were both stopped and taken to a police station.

[00:15:09] They managed to persuade the police officers that this was their first time stealing, and the policemen believed them. Their fingerprints were taken, and they were released without charge.

[00:15:21] This was the first time they had ever actually been caught, and they couldn’t believe their luck at having been released.

[00:15:30] Of course, over the previous couple of years after all of his prior thefts, galleries had reported them to the police. 

[00:15:38] But because the galleries they chose to rob tended to have quite poor security, often with no security cameras, and in many cases the galleries didn’t know exactly when the works of art had been stolen, the police didn’t have any real idea who Breitwieser and Kleinklaus were, or the scale of the theft that they had committed.

[00:16:03] Now, things were different. 

[00:16:05] The Swiss police had their fingerprints, and if they were caught again they could be linked back to this crime. 

[00:16:13] The situation was certainly more serious.

[00:16:16] They promised each other never to return to Switzerland, and Kleinklaus made Breitwieser promise to always wear gloves in the future, so that he left no fingerprints.

[00:16:28] Breitwieser agreed to do so, but the scale and boldness of his thefts only continued to increase. 

[00:16:37] He seemed to not care any more, to think he was invincible

[00:16:42] And tensions were growing between Breitwieser and Kleinklaus. She was hoping to start a family, to live an honest life, to be normal. 

[00:16:53] But he showed no sign of wanting to change.

[00:16:57] In November of 2001, he returned home and admitted to having done what they had both sworn never to do again.

[00:17:07] He had stolen a musical instrument called a bugle from a museum in Switzerland, and he admitted that he didn’t use gloves. 

[00:17:17] His fingerprints would be all over the case, and if the police were called and they took fingerprints, it would be linked straight back to Breitwieser and Kleinklaus.

[00:17:28] They rushed back to the museum. Kleinklaus said that it was too risky for Breitwieser to go into the scene of the crime, and that he should wait outside in their car.

[00:17:40] She went into the museum with products to wipe off the fingerprints, but Breitwieser didn't obey his orders to stay in the car.

[00:17:50] He stepped out, walked around the museum, trying to look inside to see how Kleinklaus was getting on

[00:17:59] Unknown to Breitwieser, there was a man walking his dog outside the museum who had read about the theft in the newspaper. He went inside, mentioned to the person behind the desk that there was a man acting suspiciously, the person recognised Breitwieser, the police were called and Breitwieser was arrested.

[00:18:22] Crucially, Kleinklaus is not arrested, she isn’t even linked to Breitwieser, and so she is able to travel back home.

[00:18:31] He first denies everything, but later admits to the bugle, saying that he had no money and only wanted to give his mother a nice Christmas present. 

[00:18:41] The police then link Breitwieser to the previous crime four years ago.

[00:18:47] Suddenly the police realise that perhaps he isn't just a small-time thief trying his luck. 

[00:18:55] Breitwieser denies that he is anything more than an opportunist thief, but the police don’t believe him. They manage to get an international search warrant to search his house in France, to see if the stolen art is there. 

[00:19:11] Four weeks after his arrest, the police arrive at Breitwieser’s mother’s house. They are shown to Breitwieser’s room in the attic. They open the door, no doubt waiting expectantly, but the room is completely empty apart from a bed.

[00:19:28] The true extent of Breitwieser’s crimes are still hidden to the police, but he is kept in police custody, he is held in the police station for another month and a half. 

[00:19:40] He becomes desperate, and when he is taken in for further questioning, he starts to crumble.

[00:19:47] The detective shows Breitwieser a picture of a medal, telling him that he knows he stole it.

[00:19:54] Breitwieser admits to it.

[00:19:56] Then the detective pulls out another pile of pictures of stolen goods.

[00:20:01] He puts them in front of Breitwieser, and one by one Breitwieser admits to stealing all of them.

[00:20:08] It turns out that they had been found in a canal near Breitwieser’s mother’s house. 

[00:20:14] What detectives now believe happened is that Kleinklaus returned home after Breitwieser was arrested, confessed everything to Breitwieser’s mother, and the pair of them took all of the stolen works of art and essentially threw them away, they tried to hide the evidence of the thefts.

[00:20:36] Some were thrown in a canal, others in a forest, and many paintings were cut up and left in rubbish bags.

[00:20:45] To this day, it’s not clear exactly how much has ever been recovered, and estimates are that around 60% of the works that Breitwieser and Kleinklaus stole were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

[00:21:00] After spending four years in a Swiss jail, Breitwieser spent another two and a half in France.

[00:21:07] His mother was sentenced to three years for destroying the artwork, but she only served half of her sentence.

[00:21:16] And as for Kleinklaus, she was sentenced to 18 months but only served six.

[00:21:23] If you were thinking that Breitwieser had probably learned his lesson, and his days of stealing art were behind him, you’d be wrong. 

[00:21:32] In 2011, only a few years after being released from prison, police found another 30 pieces of stolen art, and he was sent back to prison for another three years.

[00:21:45] After he got out from his second time in prison, he was being watched closely by the police, but yet again he was caught, this time trying to sell stolen art on eBay.

[00:21:57] Tragically, this arrest came in February 2019, the same month as the extended interview with him in GQ magazine, which described how he wept, he cried profusely, about not being able to steal ever again.

[00:22:14] It seems that Stéphane Breitwieser, despite being the world’s best known art thief and being responsible for the thefts of over a billion Euros worth of art, just simply cannot stop.

[00:22:29] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Stéphane Breitwieser: The Greatest Art Thief of All Time.

[00:22:37] As a quick reminder, this was part two of our three-part series on Art Theft. In part one we went through five of the most famous art thefts of all time, and in part three, which will be coming out next, we’ll learn about the amazing story of the The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbery.

[00:22:57] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:00] Breitwieser was obviously a thief and a criminal. But there is debate about the severity of his crimes. 

[00:23:08] He stole a billion Euros of art, but he wasn’t trying to sell it, he simply wanted it for himself.

[00:23:17] Does this change how we view his crime? Does this make it worse, better, or does it simply not matter?

[00:23:23] I would love to know what you think.

[00:23:25] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.


[00:23:35] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:41] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.