Octogenarian's 'lifetime' art collection stolen

By RHEA MANDULO  |  Aug. 25, 1988
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NEW YORK -- A lifetime art collection worth about $600,000, including a 1911 Marc Chagall painting, was taken from a wired Manhattan apartment, one of the octogenarian occupants said Thursday.

'We can't understand how they got in and how they got out without being detected,' Ernest Heller, 85, a retired jeweler, said of the burglary of his apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

'We have a security system here that signals how and when people enter,' he said. 'They must have known how to turn it off.'

Heller and his 88-year-old wife, who only goes by the nickname, 'Red,' had returned to their apartment about 11 p.m. Wednesday from their annual two-month vacation in Aspen, Colo., when they discovered the burglary.

He said detectives rushed to the apartment and stayed until 2 a.m. collecting fingerprints.

The investigation continued Thursday and no determination was made on how the burglary was pulled off, said police Sgt. John Clifford.

'We have no idea how they got into the apartment. There were no apparent signs of a break-in,' Clifford said.

Jewelry, paintings, sculptures, silverware and carpets, valued at more than $600,000, were taken from the apartment, he said.

Among the valuables taken were Steuben china, Heller said. 'It was a lifetime of collecting.'

Among the paintings were those by Renoir, Chagall and Roualt, he said.

'I liked the Chagall. I liked them all, but the Chagall was a very interesting one because it was a 1911 painting.'

The Chagall painting was entitled 'Othello and Desdemona,' he said.

The jewelry, which was not very important, included personal items belonging to Heller's wife and his 'dinner (diamond) studs,' he said.

Heller said he and his wife were very upset about the theft.

'It's all in the hands of the police.' Heller said. 'Sometimes they're (stolen paintings) returned but I doubt it.'

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