The heiress who plundered paintings to start a revolution

It was a brisk night in April 1974, and Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit had retired to the library of the Russborough House, their historic property in Leinster, Ireland. They have been sitting by the hearth, listening to music on their gramophone, when three masked males waving pistols burst by means of the door. One struck Sir Alfred with a gun and known as him a “capitalist pig”; one other threatened Lady Clementine with a knife. Soon, the intruders had rounded up the workers within the servants’ quarters, bounding and gagging them with nylon stockings.

Amid the chaos, a dark-haired lady carrying a good tweed skirt go well with and heels emerged. She briskly walked by means of the rooms and commenced mentioning particular paintings for her henchmen to steal. She had a discerning eye, deciding on Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman Writing a Letter With Her Maid,” value greater than a million {dollars}, in addition to masterworks by Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez and Peter Paul Rubens.

In about 10 minutes, she and her accomplices had swiped 19 paintings value a mixed $10 million (greater than $100 million in at present’s money). It was, on the time, the most important artwork heist ever. And, much more remarkably, a lady masterminded the entire thing.

That lady was Rose Dugdale, a former debutante with a Ph.D. in economics whose radical politics led her to a lifetime of crime: operating weapons, carjacking, throwing bombs and stealing paintings, all — ostensibly — to assist liberate Northern Ireland from British rule. (The ransom for the 19 artworks stolen from the Russborough House was the discharge of 4 members of the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, from British prisons to Northern Ireland, plus a paltry 500,000 kilos.)

Against her parent's wishes, Rose went to Oxford and eventually got a Ph.D. in economics.
Against her father or mother’s needs, Rose (seated left) went to Oxford and bought a Ph.D. in economics.Alamy

“It’s usually men who steal art,” stated securities skilled Anthony Amore, creator of “The Woman Who Stole Vermeer,” a new e book about Dugdale, out now. “But there’s always an outlier,” Amore advised The Post, “and Rose was an outlier in just about every way.”

Not solely was Rose a lady, she was wealthy, educated and didn’t steal for money however for political functions. Plus, the Russborough heist wasn’t her just one.

“As a museum security person, I hate what she did,” stated Amore. “But I have grudging admiration for her.”

Bridget “Rose” Dugdale was born on March 25, 1941, in East Devon, England. Her father, Colonel Eric Dugdale, labored in insurance coverage; her mom, Caroline, was a wealthy heiress who had as soon as labored in an artwork gallery. In addition to the 600-acre property in East Devon, the household additionally owned a home in London and a mansion in Scotland. Young Rose rode horses, attended ending faculty overseas and was even introduced to the queen, however she all the time had a rebellious streak. Instead of marrying, she went to Oxford — to her dad and mom’ dismay — and ultimately bought a Ph.D. in economics.

By her early 30s, Dugdale — impressed by scholar protests, the Cuban Revolution and the Black Panthers — started to transfer away from academia and into activist politics. First she centered on tenants’ rights, however progressively her curiosity shifted to the troubles in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republican Army, who have been combating in opposition to British rule. She wasn’t above accepting an allowance from her dad and mom, nonetheless, which she used primarily to assist bail out protesters and IRA supporters going through time in jail, although she did have a weak point for quick automobiles and reside opera.

“She was so free with her money — it probably seemed limitless to her at some point,” stated Amore. “But ultimately she ran out, and she needed to get her hands on more.”

Born into a wealthy family, Rose Dugdale despised the rich.
Born into a rich household, Rose Dugdale (left) despised the wealthy — however cherished her dad and mom (proper).

That’s when she deliberate her first heist: wrangling her married socialist boyfriend, Wally Heaton, to assist her raise a trove of antiques and artworks value $85,000 from her dad and mom’ property. The pair have been caught, and their 1973 trial precipitated a sensation: the poor little wealthy lady who robbed her household within the throes of an affair with a harmful insurgent. Dugdale used the stand to converse out in opposition to capitalism and her dad and mom’ politics: “I love you,” she stated at one level, addressing her father, however “at the same time I hate everything you stand for!”

Wally bought six years in jail for his position within the heist, however Dugdale acquired a two-year suspension and a paltry $5,000 positive. That solely made Dugdale angrier: “Class injustice if I may say so,” she stated.

“The media, her parents, seemed at the time to think she was going through some phase,” stated Amore, in regards to the lenient sentence. “The judge concluded that she was unlikely to offend again … But this was her warm-up act.”

Rose pulled off her biggest crime with the help of Eddie Gallagher at the Russborough House, home to Sir Albert and Lady Beit (right).
Rose pulled off her greatest crime with the assistance of Eddie Gallagher on the Russborough House, house to Sir Albert and Lady Beit (proper).Alamy; Dermot O’Shea/Irish Times

Dugdale emerged from the trial galvanized, moved to Ireland, and attached with Republican Eddie Gallagher, who was concerned with some fringe, extremist break-offs of the IRA. The couple hijacked a helicopter and dropped bombs on a police station, ran weapons to Irish rebels and primarily lived life on the lam. (The IRA denounced her and Gallagher’s actions.) She was notably involved with getting a group of IRA prisoners in Britain transferred to Northern Ireland, and she or he thought again to the heist at her dad and mom’ home — maybe she may use artwork as ransom. And why not raid probably the most well-appointed personal collections in Ireland?

At 9:30 p.m. on April 26, Dugdale, Gallagher and two different males drove a silver Ford station wagon to the Russborough House and went over their plan. The three males gathered their instruments — knives, screwdrivers, tape, stockings, rubber gloves, pistols — and placed on their masks, whereas Dugdale donned a black wig, heavy make-up and a ladylike costume. She walked up to a facet entrance of the home and knocked on the door, talking French when two servants answered, assuming she had automobile hassle. But earlier than they may assist, Gallagher and his cronies rushed the doorways, threatening to shoot if the servicemen didn’t carry them to the house owners of the home.

Art thieves know Rembrandts, and so they know Picasso. But they don’t know van de Velde. She did.

 – Anthony Amore, creator of ‘The Woman Who Stole Vermeer’

After Dugdale completed her sweep of the house, the thieves eliminated the bigger works from their frames after which bundled all of the paintings collectively. They then separated the home members into totally different rooms. Sir Alfred was bleeding from being hit with a gun. One thug pushed Lady Beit down towards the basement. “I was convinced that, like the unfortunate Romanovs, I was to be shot in the cellar,” she later stated.

The bandits piled all 19 paintings at the back of the station wagon and made their getaway, depositing the automobile 70 miles away earlier than stealing two extra. Dugdale and Gallagher ended up in a farmhouse greater than 130 miles away, which they rented from a farmer underneath aliases.

This unlikely quartet had simply pulled off the most important property theft of its day. “She stole … all the most important and the most valuable” paintings, Lord Alfred would later say. It was the form of heist that solely a true artwork connoisseur may handle.

“Art thieves know Rembrandts, and they know Picasso,” stated Amore. “But art thieves don’t know Rubens. They don’t know [Henry] van de Velde. She did.”

Rose married Irish Republican Army revolutionary Eddie Gallagher and had a child.
Rose married Irish Republican Army revolutionary Eddie Gallagher and had his youngster (proper) in jail.Alamy

The police shortly linked Dugdale to the heist: The deserted getaway automobile had a driver’s license with certainly one of her aliases. Eight days later, they discovered her within the farmer’s cottage, alone, together with all of the stolen paintings.

“A lot of art thefts … don’t look past the actual crime,” stated Amore. And whereas he acknowledged that Rose did have a good plan to use the paintings as ransom, she couldn’t have anticipated that the very rebels she needed to assist would advocate for the return of the paintings stolen on their behalf. This included one other Vermeer, “the Guitar Player,” lifted from a London artwork gallery simply two weeks earlier, which Amore additionally suspects was performed by Dugdale. (Two IRA bombers denounced the thefts and launched public statements asking for the paintings to be returned.)

By the time the cops confirmed up at Dugdale’s door, added Amore, “she seemed resigned to the fact that she’d be caught.”

Dugdale went on trial for the heist in June 1974. She pleaded “proudly and incorruptibly guilty,” and bought a nine-year sentence. Yet she by no means stopped elevating hell. She stunned her jailers when all of a sudden, she began experiencing contractions: No one had observed she had arrived on the jail 4 months pregnant. Then Gallagher had a nail file smuggled into her jail cell so she may strive to noticed her means out. (It didn’t work, and Gallagher was arrested.) The two had a much-publicized wedding ceremony within the slammer; even their child, by then dwelling with one other household, attended.

Dugdale left jail in 1980, after six years, and resumed her revolutionary actions, although this time with out breaking the regulation. (Her marriage with Gallagher, who was launched a decade later, didn’t final, although she did inform a reporter that they remained “friends.”) Now 79, she’s develop into considerably of a beloved native hero in her house of Dublin. But she has misplaced none of her insurgent spirit.

“There’s this great photo of her signing the sympathy book at the Cuban embassy in Ireland when [Fidel] Castro died,” stated Amore. “She gave up a life of luxury and enormous wealth to do what she did. Right or wrong, no one can argue that she wasn’t a true believer.”


Back to top button