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FBI agent Robert King Wittman is responsible for recovering more than $300 million worth of stolen art, including works by Goya, Rembrandt, and Rockwell 

Stefan Andrews

For two decades, Robert King “Bob” Wittman” investigated and resolved many cases that concerned art thefts and art frauds. A highly decorated FBI Special Agent, he was assigned to the Philadelphia Field Division in 1988 and was active with the FBI until 2008.

One of his major discoveries was of a theft that had happened at Pennsbury Manor, the historical home of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. In this particular case, Wittman retrieved more than 30 historical items valued at over $100,000.

Robert Wittman speaking at Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia, in 2014. photo credit roanokecollege CC BY 2.0

He also resolved a theft case from the U.S. Naval Academy which had occurred way back in 1932. The theft concerned the 1862 Tiffany presentation sword, awarded to Admiral John Lorimer Worden for his heroic command aboard the USS Monitor. Under Wittman’s management, the admiral’s priceless swords had been safely returned to the U.S. Naval academy.

Robert had also played a vital role in the recovery of colonial North Carolina’s copy of the original Bill of Rights in 2005. The case concerning the bill had remained opened and unresolved for well over a century, it having been stolen in 1865.

Wittman did not work in the States only but represented his country around the world, conducting investigations and instructing international police and museums in recovery and security procedures. In Spain, on a private estate in Madrid, he resolved a theft of numerous paintings valued at a maximum of $50 million. Two of those paintings were of the acknowledged Spanish painter and printmaker, Francisco de Goya.

Annapolis, Md. (Jan. 12, 2004) — The historic Worden Sword rests on a table with its belt and scabbard laid out for display. The FBI recovered the priceless sword, missing since 1931, and returned it to the U.S. Naval Academy. The Tiffany sword was originally presented to Rear Adm. John L. Worden by the state of New York for his command of USS Monitor in its famous battle with CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads, Va., March 9, 1862.

Wittman also closed a case that had occurred at the Swedish National Museum when a Self Portrait of Rembrandt, valued at $36 million, was stolen from the museum after an armed robbery in December 2000. The small self-portrait on copper by Rembrandt was recovered in neighboring Denmark. It was undamaged and still in its frame.

On South American soil, in ancient Peru, Wittman has helped with the recovery of an extremely rare 2,000-year-old golden Pre-Columbian piece of body armor; a back flap that was worn as battle armor and rank decoration by warrior priests of the pre-Columbian Moche civilization. Made of gold, copper, and silver, the back flap was recovered in October 1997. The body armor was identified after it was offered for a sale at $1.6 million.

In Brazil, Wittman also retrieved five paintings by the American author, painter, and illustrator, Norman Rockwell. The paintings, which were stolen from a private gallery in Minneapolis, with a value of $1 million, were found in a farmhouse.

Rembrandt, Self-portrait, 1630, Swedish National Museum.

During his 20 years of service for the FBI, it is estimated that Wittman helped recover more than $300 million worth of stolen artistic works and culturally significant items. In 2005, he also helped the FBI to form a rapid deployment Art Crime Team.

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He was named the department’s Senior Investigator and was responsible for providing instructions to everybody in the newly formed special team.

In case you were planning a huge art theft in the near future, beware, although Wittman is no longer with the FBI, there is still an army of trained investigators who had learned from his expertise.