In May 1973, the museum closed for three years to renovate and expand the 113-year-old institution.
In the summer of 1973, someone contacted a member of the museum’s board of directors and promised that for $10,000 the anonymous caller would divulge the location of the paintings. A Montreal insurance adjuster, André DeQuoy, stepped in and when the anonymous caller demanded money up front, the adjuster said he would pay for information but not stolen goods.
Paul Delean, in the 10th anniversary article that he’d written with information from the museum officials and little cooperation from the police, wrote in 1982:
“But the museum wasn’t quite so firm. DeQuoy said museum officials agreed to make available $10,000 if he would deliver it. DeQuoy agreed. He set out one afternoon at 2 p.m. with the money in an envelope. He went first to a designated phone booth downtown, then, was sent to others at Blue Bonnets racetrack, on St. Laurent Boulevard and near the Henri-Bourassa Metro station. It was there that the caller told DeQuoy that he had spotted the police tail, and that he would notify police headquarters to get rid of the unmarked “protection.”
Thirty minutes later, DeQuoy got another call at the same booth from his mystery source saying police had been called off. He was instructed to return to his office. Once there, he was called again and the phone booth marathon resumed. It went on until 4 a.m. with DeQuoy going to and from 11 telephone booths across the island [of Montreal]. He was finally told to leave the money at the foot of a sign in a vacant lot on St. Martin Boulevard. DeQuoy followed instruction and returned to the phone booth near Henri-Bourassa station awaiting the call that would lead him to the paintings. He also called the police, filing them in on his activities of the past several hours.
“This time, however, the public phone didn’t ring. DeQuoy returned to his office, where a call came through around 8 a.m. He was told the artworks were at a motel in Laval [outside of Montreal]. Police were called and combed the building. Nothing was found.”
What happened in the decades after the theft?
Over the years, little has been mentioned about Canada’s largest art theft. Paul Delean wrote an article in 1982 commemorating the 10th anniversary after being prompted by an ad offering a reward for the return of the paintings. Delean was the first reporter to publish the story about the return of the Brueghel painting, the Indian pendant, and the attempts to recovery the paintings. The police and insurance files on the case remained open for at least a decade. Delean did identify the investigators approach:
“As one police officer explained, “for years we thought our chances of recovery were better keeping everything quiet. We didn’t want media reports scaring anybody off. But now our hopes are small. Maybe this will stimulate interest and produce something.”
In 1982, certain information was verified but ‘nothing came of it.’
In 1994, La Presse, the French-language newspaper in Montreal, printed an article under the headline “Trésor volé au Musée des beaux-arts” which recounted the details of the theft and reported on the current condition of the police case:
“Nous ne possédons pas le moindre element, le moindre indice, la moindre empreinte qui nous permette d’orienter notre enquête,” avoue l’officier en charge.”
Translated: “We don’t even have the slightest element, the slightest clue, the slightest fingerprint that could help us to orient our investigation,” admits the leading officer.
In 1992, twenty years after the theft, a television show, Montreal ce soir, highlighting the theft, estimated the value of the missing paintings at $20 million and reported that the insurance companies that had paid out on the claim were offering $100,000 reward for the paintings.