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Caller Leads Los Angeles Police to $800,000 Worth of Stolen Lithographs

Scottish artist Benjamin Crème.

STEVE BENT/ANL/SHUTTERSTOCK

A cold case of stolen artwork has been (partially) cracked after one phone call.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles police followed up on a tip that a storage locker in San Francisco held nearly 1,300 signed lithographs by the late Scottish abstract expressionist Benjamin Crème that could be worth $800,000.

According to a statement by the LAPD, a San Fernando resident was cleaning out a late relative’s storage when they discovered the massive trove of artwork, including Crème’s Flame-Coloured Deva, Shakti II, and Ancient Moral. A search of a law-enforcement database revealed them to be stolen.

“The family took the stuff and had it stored in their house for several years when they finally started going through it and discovered the art was stolen,” LAPD Det. Steven Franssen told the New York Post. “They immediately packed it up and took it to the police station.”

The prints had first been reported missing from a storage facility in west Los Angeles in 2012, but the exact circumstances that led them to the Bay Area locker have not been disclosed by police. They have since been returned to their owner, lithographer Michael Flaum.

The lithographs recovered were created by Crème between the 1960s and ’70s. The artist was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1922 and died at 93 in October of 2016. Crème first gained prominence in the 1940s after shifting from landscapes to vivid abstract paintings under the tutelage of Polish painter Jankel Adler. Crème turned towards esotericism in the ’60s, gaining lifelong followers of his prophesy that the Second Coming would be in the form of a deity known as Maitreya the World Teacher.

Despite the discovery, around 1,000 unframed prints taken from the facility are still unaccounted for.

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