Aspen cops zero in on suspect in $3 million painting slashing
Aspen police have a suspect in the slashing of a $3 million painting two months ago at a downtown art gallery, though they are not yet ready to arrest or identify the person, an official said Wednesday.
Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said they are still “firming up” the investigation, but they do believe the crime comes down to money.
“There are multiple search warrants still pending and until we have the results of those, we won’t know (the person’s identity) for sure,” Linn said. “It does seem to be moving slower than I anticipated because of the complexity of the search warrants.”
Asked if the suspect was somehow connected to the painting, which is by New York artist Christopher Wool and titled “Untitled 2004,” Linn declined to answer.
“One of the difficulties was establishing a motive,” Linn said. “It was an extraordinary set of circumstances. We were thinking, ‘What on Earth would cause this to happen?’
“And that’s what we believe — that it was financially motivated.”
An eyewitness who saw the man the day the painting was slashed was later able to identify the suspect after doing some research, Linn said.
“The person actually came to us” about a week after the painting was slashed, he said.
Linn declined to identify the witness, though he said the information confirmed the general direction the police investigation already was heading at the time.
Linn said he didn’t know when police might be ready to identify their suspect.
The incident occurred May 2 at the height of Aspen’s generally quiet offseason when the man, wearing sunglasses, a hat and full beard, entered Opera Gallery at the base of Aspen Mountain near the gondola. He headed straight for the 8½-foot-by-6½-foot painting hanging on the wall opposite the front door, slashed the canvas twice with a knife or a razor and ran out.
The man placed a block of wood in the door jamb of the gallery’s front door on his way inside, then grabbed the wood on his way out. Police suspect he might have been guarding against magnetic sensors that can sometimes lock doors in the event of a robbery or crime. He was inside the gallery for less than 15 seconds. A gallery employee was the only other person inside when the incident occurred.
The man also wore a glove only on his left hand and appeared to be careful not to touch anything with his ungloved right hand, according to video of the incident.
Cameras at various downtown businesses in the area caught the man running down Hunter Street and heading east on Cooper Avenue past City Market and into the residential neighborhood on Aspen’s East End. No other video footage of the man has surfaced since then, Linn said Wednesday.
The painting is owned by a limited-liability company made up of several multi-national owners, Linn said. Aspen police have reached out to the owners, though Linn declined to comment on what, if anything, investigators learned from them. He said he did not know if an insurance claim has been filed on the painting.
Wool, the artist, is not a suspect in the case, Linn said.
The painting was for sale on consignment, according to gallery owner Gregory Lahmi. He said Wednesday he has no new information about the case.
The painting remains locked away in a downvalley storage facility and its owners have not yet requested its return, Lahmi said. He took down the slashed painting about three days after the incident because he was tired of curiosity seekers coming in to look at it.
He said previously that a man whose phone number did not come up on a caller ID called three times in the weeks prior to the slashing asking whether the Wool painting was still in the gallery.
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Come Tuesday afternoon, the Aspen School District Board of Education has some goals to set. Members will review their draft priorities for the 2021-22 school year and, if all goes according to the agenda, they’ll approve them, too.