Some mothers unwittingly clear their sons' vintage baseball cards out of the attic. Then there's this: seven artworks—by Matisse, Picasso and others—allegedly torched in a home oven by a Romanian mother seemingly hoping to protect a son arrested in an art heist. "The idea became trapped in my mind that if the pictures could not be found, there will be no evidence," Olga Dogaru told police after son Radu, 29, and two others were charged in January in a burglary of Holland's Kunsthal museum. "I sense I made a big mistake."
Or, as art-security expert Anthony Amore put it, "a horrifying crime against culture." Incineration of such treasures is so unthinkable that officials initially didn't believe Dogaru—who reversed herself in a July 22 court appearance, insisting, "I did not burn them." But after forensic testing of the ashes by Romania's National History Museum, its director Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu tells PEOPLE, "The evidence is clear." Experts saw traces of mineral pigments and blacksmith-forged nails consistent with those that would have been used by Monet or Gauguin. "It's beyond my imagination why someone would do this," he says. As one source close to the investigation ventures, "Mothers from Romania love their sons very much."
- With Peter Mikelbank/Paris,
- Maaike Ruepert/Amsterdam.