Portrait pilferer returns to scene decades later

Special to Western News

Inside the mystery package, which arrived at the University College offices of Modern Languages and Literatures in May, were two items: A framed sketch of a military man, whose garb hinted at the mid-1800, along with a neatly handwritten note on ruled paper.

It was the perfect crime – until it became the perfect mystery.

“It was really surprising, like something out of a novel. Why would you steal this picture – of all pictures,” laughed Joyce Bruhn de Garavito, professor and chair of Modern Languages and Literatures. “Think of this picture, and then think of it ‘decorating’ someone’s dorm room.”

The mystery began May 21, when a package arrived at the University College offices of Modern Languages and Literatures.

It had been delivered by hand, while office staff were in a meeting. Nobody saw the package delivered or, perhaps more importantly, the person who delivered it. It was found propped atop the department drop box as it was too thick to slide into the mail slot. The package bore no return address – only the department name written across it in black marker.

“I can’t tell you how surprised I was when I opened it. I was away from my desk when it was dropped off, and when I returned there was a padded envelope that was addressed to our department,” said Sylvia Kontra, a graduate affairs assistant for the department. “I opened it up, and this is what I found inside.”

Tightly packed were two items: A framed sketch of a military man, whose garb hinted at the mid-1800, along with a neatly handwritten note on ruled paper.

After some Internet sleuthing, de Garavito and Kontra now believe the sketch to be of Otto Von Bismarck, the person credited with unifying the German empire, who served as the new nation’s first chancellor.

It’s been professionally framed, so I can’t remove the back of the picture to see if it says anything on the page. However, I found an image of Bismarck online, and it literally looked like it could be the photograph that this drawing is based on,” Kontra continued.

The sketch was circulated around the department. However, given no faculty members were around 30 years ago, nobody remembers it or the fact it went missing in the first place.

And then there was the note, which read:

 

To whom it may concern:

I ‘lifted’ this from the German Dept 30 years ago to decorate my dorm room.

Here it is back – framed. Thanks for the use of it.

A former student

 

“And that’s it,” Kontra said.

The sketch and note made the move with the department when it relocated to the Arts & Humanities Building this summer, while University College undergoes renovations. Kontra plans to hang both items in the front of the office, hopefully to one day spark a hint of recognition in a visitor.

“We would love to talk to them,” she continued. “It would be great to hear their story, hear about how our department was back then and what drew them to this picture.”