The Theft of the Mona Lisa

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The Mona Lisa, one of the world's most famous and recognizable paintings, was stolen from the famed Louvre Museum on August 21, 1911. In one of the most brazen thefts ever, an Italian man named Vincenzo Perugia hid in the museum overnight and then stole the painting, frame and all, early the next morning. He cut the painting from its frame and made his way out of the museum. In his escape attempt, he came to a locked door. Undeterred, he unscrewed the knob, put it in his pocket, and walked out.

The alarm wasn't raised right away. Museum employees who arrived that next day assumed that the painting had been taken down for cleaning. Such things happened all the time. It wasn't until museum officials entered the room where the painting had been hanging and confirmed that no cleaning was scheduled that they suspected foul play. After an exhaustive search of the huge museum, officials announced to the public that the painting was gone.

The news was electrifying and was bandied about all over the world. The Mona Lisa stolen! Police networks around the world began looking for the world's most famous stolen face.

It was a long search, more than 2 years, in fact, but the painting was finally found. Perugia himself tried to sell it, to a gallery in his native Italy. His asking price: $100,000.

Perugia was caught, of course, and didn't even deny stealing it. He confirmed that he had taken the painting, and he said he did out of patriotism. "Why should an Italian painting hang in a French museum?" he asked.

The painting was returned, and Perugia was put in prison. As more details of the theft came it, authorities that Perugia had actually handled the painting 10 months before he stole it: He was one of a group of men who were hired by the museum to put all of the so-called masterpieces under glass. Police had questioned Perugia about the theft soon after he took the painting, but his firm denials and apparent alibi convinced them that he wasn't a suspect.

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