Stefan Brightweather robbed more than 200 museums, becoming a legend. But he did not sell anything on the black market, preferring to keep the stolen goods at home.
In February 2019, Stéphane Breitwieser was detained in France in France on suspicion of theft of objects of art . In the early 2000s, all the world’s newspapers wrote about this man as “the most sophisticated thief” responsible for the theft in more than 200 European museums. For this, he went to prison, and after leaving for a long time disappeared from the radar.
The story of Brightweather differs from the classic story about a skilled professional who penetrated museums for the sake of the subsequent sale of the loot on the black market. The Frenchman lived in poverty and, as he claims, perceived his collection as the most important and valuable thing in his life. GQ magazine studied in detail how the young man won the fame of a professional art thief, driven by the goal of creating his own treasury.
the Forbidden fruit
When Brightweather visited the museum, he looked like the most ordinary visitor. Buying a ticket, he was friendly with the workers, he looked neat and did not arouse suspicion. Once inside the hall, he quickly counted the guards, remembered whether they were walking around the museum or sitting. Marked the location of surveillance cameras and recorded whether they are connected to the network.
The important part of the museum on which the success of the operation depends is the quality of the floor. Ideally, it should be creaky and wooden to hear the approaching steps in advance. Worst of all with carpet. In the Belgian museum “Rubens House”, where Brightweather came with his partner Anna-Catherine Kleinklaus in February 1997, the floor was marble.
The task of Kleinklaus, to put it in extremely simple language, was to be on the lookout. She stood in the only aisle on the first floor of the museum and coughed gently, warning Brightweather as someone approached the hall. The partners were only 25 years old, but the Frenchman had already worked out his principles of museum thefts. According to the man, over the years he hasn’t sold anything stolen – stealing for money seemed stupid to him, because you can earn a much safer way. Another thing – the theft of the love of art.
In Belgium, Brightweather intended to kidnap a small ivory sculpture of Adam and Eve, which emerged from the hand of German sculptor Georg Petel in 1627 She was under a dome of organic glass, attached to the thick base of an old chest of drawers. The thief needed to unscrew the two screws connecting the dome and base. This is not so difficult, given the lack of cameras and the presence of only one security guard, who periodically left the premises, but in such cases, Brightweather was always careful.
Thanks to the Swiss army knife and co-worker, after about 20 minutes, Brightweather raised the dome, hid the sculpture under his jacket and quietly, but quickly, left the museum. Soon after, the couple flew to Germany, from where they safely reached home in the French city of Mulhouse.
By home was meant a small room with a bedroom on the top floor of the Brightweather’s mother house. Despite the fact that the sculpture of Adam and Eve is worth millions of dollars, its new owner lived poorly, working as a waiter. His girl was registered as a nurse in the hospital, and her salary left much to be desired. But it was hard to believe in all this by opening the French room.
He entered as if he was once again in a museum: on the walls were paintings of the Renaissance, including works by such masters as Adrian van Ostade, Francois Boucher or Albrecht Dürer. The space next to the bed of a young couple was filled with silver glasses, plates, vases and bowls. A golden snuffbox, which once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as military weapons and rare musical instruments of the late Middle Ages, was visible nearby.
“My cave is Ali Baba,” Brightweather called this place. For him, it personified the aesthetic rest, here he felt comfortable. A little thought, the Frenchman put the stolen sculpture on a table near his bed to see her waking up.
Brightwizer was born in the north of France in 1971. His father led the sales department in Switzerland, and his mother worked as a nurse. There was enough money, and the family lived in a big house filled with luxury and art of the past centuries. Collecting since childhood attracted the Frenchman, and long before the museum thefts he collected rare stamps, coins and postcards bought with pocket money.
Parents hoped that he would become a lawyer, but after a few years of study at the university bored the future thief, and he left. By the age of 22, the young man continued to live with his parents, watching their marriage rapidly disintegrate. The father left the house, taking with him the bulk of the property, leaving the former spouse and son with almost no means of livelihood. They had to move to a smaller place where antiques replaced furniture from IKEA.
At about the same time, Brightweather met Kleinklaus. Having the same passion for museums and art, they quickly found a common language, and soon the young man realized that he was in love. A few months later, the couple went to a museum in the village of Tan, where a Frenchman noticed an antique pistol. His father collected weapons, and memories of this prompted Brightweather to the idea that he, too, must have such value.