A devious scheme by Italian art thieves was nearly picture-perfect.
Bandits thought they had pulled off the perfect crime on Wednesday when they pinched Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s “The Crucifixion” from Santa Maria Maddalena Church in Castelnuovo Magra.
But unbeknownst to the crooks was that police had been tipped off about a possible swipe weeks earlier and had already swapped out the 1617 Flemish original with a passable replica.
The criminals used a hammer to break the display case housing the artwork worth an estimated $3.4 million.
“Rumors began to circulate that someone could steal the work and the (police) decided to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some surveillance cameras,” explained Castelnuovo Magra Mayor Daniele Montebello, who helped keep the plot under wraps and even offered some quality Academy Award-level acting by bemoaning the theft to reporters and calling it “a hard blow for our community.”
But by Wednesday night, Montebello dropped the pretense and thanked police and church members for helping to lay the trap.
“Some members of the congregation noticed that the painting on display was not the original, but they didn’t give away the secret,” said the mayor.
Police are on the hunt for two men seen removing the fake painting and driving away with it, according to La Repubblica.