The 'Spider-Man of Paris' Pulled off One of the Most Audacious Art Heists Ever; Here's His Tale

The 'Spider-Man of Paris' Pulled off One of the Most Audacious Art Heists Ever; Here's His Tale
Cover Image Source: Pexels/Chris Molloy

The world is no stranger to captivating heist stories that have a knack for capturing the collective imagination of the masses and often inspire blockbuster movies. Vjeran Tomic, who earned the moniker "The Spider-Man of Paris" for his incredible feats of burglary, has become the central figure in a high-octane documentary produced by Netflix. "Vjeran Tomic: The Spider-Man of Paris" delves into the life of this modern-day cat burglar, from his early exploits to his theft of five priceless paintings valued at a staggering $117 million from the Musée d’Art Moderne (MAM) in Paris in 2010. But what drove Tomic to venture into high-profile art theft, and what became of him afterward?

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Tomic's story begins in Mostar, Bosnia, where he was sent to live with his grandmother at the age of 10, after relocating from Paris. His criminal journey commenced with a daring heist in his early years, when he broke into a library through the window, and stole two centuries-old books. A year later, when he returned to Paris, he spent his teenage years navigating the city's streets, mastering the art of scaling the walls of famous locations such as the Pere Lachaise cemetery, and honing his parkour skills.

Tomic's criminal activities evolved from raiding mausoleums to breaking into affluent homes to steal valuables, which he would later sell at local markets. He even claimed to have stolen gold buttons from the Egyptian Royal Family during his criminal exploits.

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Image Source: IMDb
Image Source: IMDb

 

As he refined his approach, Tomic embarked on a more audacious mission in 2000. Armed with a crossbow and ropes, he swung into an apartment while its occupants slept. In this heist, he managed to bag valuable artworks, including two Renoir works, a Derain, an Utrillo, and a Braque, collectively worth more than $1 million.

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In 2004, Tomic crossed paths with Jean Michel Corvez, a gallery owner who would play a pivotal role in his criminal endeavors. Over time, Corvez began "ordering" specific items for Tomic to steal, which he would subsequently sell to clients. Gradually, their focus shifted from jewelry to paintings.

A casual conversation with Corvez laid the foundation for Tomic's most audacious heist. Corvez expressed a desire to own a Léger painting, and Tomic, who had been eyeing one in the Musée d’Art Moderne, mentioned his belief that he could access it through an inadequately secured window.

Starting on May 14, 2010, Tomic meticulously worked on the window frame for six nights, using a paint stripper to expose the screws. He then deftly removed the screws, replacing them with imitation clay screws. On the morning of May 20, he was prepared to execute the heist. Using suction pads, he removed the window effortlessly and cut the lock on the security grate, evading motion sensors.

Image Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels
Image Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

 

Tomic initially left the scene to ascertain whether a silent alarm had been triggered, but upon confirmation that it hadn't, he returned to seize the Léger painting, titled "Still Life with Candlestick." In a moment of audacity, he also decided to take Picasso's "Pastoral," Modigliani's "Woman with a Fan," Picasso's "Pigeon with Peas," and Braque's "Olive Tree Near l’Estaque." Strangely, he refrained from taking Modigliani's "Woman with Blue Eyes," later revealing that the painting "spoke" to him, warning him not to take it.

In two trips, Tomic managed to secure this invaluable haul. However, the audacity of the heist soon caught the attention of the international press, prompting the French authorities to launch a hunt for both the paintings and the elusive burglar. It was a skateboarder who noticed Tomic behaving suspiciously near the Musée d’Art Moderne before the theft who tipped off the authorities.

Nevertheless, six months passed, and Tomic continued to roam the streets of Paris, evading capture. Ultimately, it took an informant who disclosed Tomic's identity for the police to initiate surveillance. But Tomic was not maintaining a low profile and was actively planning another heist, this time at the Pompidou Centre. Despite all the evidence at hand, Tomic managed to evade arrest for an extended period.

Vjeran Tomic's run came to an end on May 12, 2011, when he, short on funds, attempted to rob another apartment and was caught in the act by the police. During a police interview, he confessed to the theft of the five artworks.

The trial took place in January 2017, and Tomic, along with accomplices Corvez and Birn, was found guilty. Tomic was sentenced to eight years in prison, while Corvez and Birn received sentences of seven and six years, respectively. Additionally, they were ordered to pay the City of Paris $110 million in compensation.

Jail of the Plaza de Castilla | Getty Images | Photo by Matias Nieto
Jail of the Plaza de Castilla | Getty Images | Photo by Matias Nieto

 

Though Birn claimed to have destroyed the stolen paintings and discarded them, doubts persist about the veracity of his claim. Regardless, the whereabouts of the paintings remain a mystery, as they have never been recovered.

Tomic is still incarcerated and is expected to serve his sentence until 2025. In prison, he has ventured into illustrating, and he aspires to open a sculpting studio to create his own art. The "Spider-Man of Paris" may have been captured, but his audacious heists and the mystery of the missing paintings continue to intrigue the world.

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