The evening after the theft, the public prosecutor decides to set up a large-scale investigative team, a TGO [Team Grootschalig Onderzoek] in Dutch. These teams are used to working big cases, they are well attuned to each other and have all the necessary research tools. The investigation is named TGO Art. Twenty-five officers are assigned to the case.
They immediately go into “storm phase” – police jargon meaning that speed is of the essence. The crime scene is combed for any trace of the intruders. There isn’t much. Small signs of forced entry on the emergency exit and finger and footprints in the hall. A single camera with very poor image quality has recorded the break-in.
A door-to-door search is conducted, art experts are consulted and all the most obvious scenarios are laid out. Flyers and electronic boards call for witnesses. To prevent further thefts, that same afternoon fourteen large, black planters are placed in front of the glass façade at the side of the museum.
The Friday after the theft, security footage is released and broadcast on Opsporing Verzocht, a Dutch crime watch show. More than a hundred helpful tips come in. People supply names, leads and art gangs. It makes for a lot of work because everything has to be followed up and ruled out. The tips don’t bring the police any closer to the suspects.
Due to the lack of information, there is a lot of media speculation about the value of the paintings. The Dutch media stick to 50 to 100 million euros, in accordance the Art Loss Register’s estimate in London. In the United States, the amount is inflated from 100 million euros in The New York Times and on Bloomberg News, to “hundreds of millions of euros” according to The Huffington Post. In Britain the value yoyos between 60 million (Daily Telegraph) and 310 million euros (Independent).
The actual value is somewhat lower. The morning after the robbery, Willem van Hassel, chairman of the Kunsthal board, arrives at a quarter to ten at the Rotterdam police headquarters to report the theft. Although he notes that it is “quite possible” that the market value is many times higher, he gives them a list with a total insurance value of 18.1 million euros.
The police have other worries. Two weeks after the robbery, TGO Art isn’t a single step closer to solving the case. “We don’t even know where to look for the perpetrators – in the hardcore criminal world or in the art world,” a police spokesperson says.
They pin hope on the security images taken in the weeks preceding the art theft. The perpetrators must have looked around beforehand. For weeks on end, the detectives analyze the hours of security footage from the Kunsthal in search of suspicious behaviour, patterns or other indications.