Warhol Paintings Pilfered; Thieves After Money, Not Fame, Say Police

(AP Photo/LAPD)
Photo: Reward poster issued for stolen works of art by Andy Warhol in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) Where have you gone, Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, Pele, and Dorothy Hamill?

Someone's on the run with a unique series of Andy Warhol portraits of sports superstars, which were stolen from a Los Angeles collector's home.

Police said Friday the collection of 10 silk screen paintings of famous athletes of the 1970s, valued in the multimillions, vanished from the home of businessman Richard Weisman Sept. 2nd or 3rd.

Weisman commissioned the iconic pop artist in 1977 to create the portraits, said Brenda Klippel, the director of Martin Lawrence Galleries in Los Angeles, which has a large collection of Warhols.

A commissioned portrait of Weisman himself was also stolen, said Detective Mark Sommer of the Los Angeles Police Department's art theft detail. A $1 million reward was offered for information leading to the return of the paintings.

Warhol literally elevated pop culture to an art form, becoming internationally famous in the 1960s for his iconic image of a Campbell's soup can, his avant-garde films and his parties that mixed celebrities, artists, intellectuals and other beautiful people at his New York studio called "The Factory."

"This was a very clean crime," Sommer said. "(The home) wasn't ransacked."

It wasn't known exactly how much the prints were worth.

Art recovery expert Robert Wittman, a former investigator for the FBI's national art crime team, says most rewards are offered for about 10 percent of a stolen collection's value.

Photo: Andy Warhol in 1985.

"A million dollars is nothing to sneeze at. That's a hefty reward for a collection," Wittman said.

The art was on display in Weisman's dining room and his house was locked up. It wasn't clear exactly when the paintings were taken or how the thieves got into the home.

The theft was discovered by the family's longtime nanny who arrived at the home to find the large prints missing from the walls. She immediately went to a neighbor's to call police, Sommer said.