By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Nancy Carter, who was Alvarez's real estate agent, discovered the theft on December 21, while showing the apartment. The empty frame hung mockingly in the living room. She called the police, and though the investigating officers searched the premises, they never bothered to open the door to the guest bathroom, and couldn't figure out how the thieves had gotten into the apartment.
A day later, Carter got a phone call from the maid who cleaned the condo once a week.
"Is Mr. Alvarez having work done?" she asked. "There sure was a mess in the bathroom, but don't worry, I cleaned it up."
Carter called the cops again, showed them the hole in the wall and marveled that anyone could fit through an opening so tiny. The police assured her that the human body is very pliant.
A week later, Alvarez called from Spain and told the police that the painting was a copy of no value.
"Complainant states that he does not want to pursue this matter and will not come to the U.S.," the police report stated. "In view of the above, request that this case be closed."
The real "La Mujer" was reportedly locked away in a vault. The copy didn't reappear until 1989, six years later.
According to Detective Joseph Keenan of the New York Police Department, art burglaries are rare because artworks are so hard to dispose of. Most stolen art is simply shoplifted from art galleries, and less than 10 percent of it is ever recovered, partly because police departments have more pressing concerns to throw budgets at, and partly because of the closed and confidential nature of the clandestine art world.
"Let's say you stole a tractor-trailer full of VCRs," Detective Keenan posits. "You'd have no trouble getting rid of them. But I know some very professional-type burglars who wouldn't do an art job because they don't have the connections. It would be impossible for them to sell it."
The major markets for the Picasso would be overseas. In fact, the cops had someone specific in mind. "At one point, the police told us this probably was a robbery that had been commissioned by someone who collected Picassos and lived on an island somewhere in Greece," says Alvarez. Alvarez thought immediately of the Greek Orthodox priest who had doted over the apartment and its art. Nancy Carter, the real estate agent, had tried to look him up, but couldn't find him anywhere. She and Alvarez assumed he had been casing the apartment, especially since he disappeared after the burglary. "He was a complete fraud. I know he didn't steal the painting himself," Carter says, thinking back to the hole cut in the wall and to the priest's considerable girth. "I don't care what the police say, the human body is not that pliable."
Carter thought of the priest again several years later, in 1989, when New York State Police investigators came to visit. "Evidently, there were a couple of dead bodies up there [in upstate New York], and one of them had the clipping of the newspaper about the Picasso in his wallet," Carter says. She and Alvarez wondered if someone had been paid back for bungling the job and stealing a worthless painting. When contacted by New Times, however, the New York state trooper in charge of that investigation denied any such body was found, and he refused to comment on a report he made to the FBI regarding an arrested fugitive who also had the New York Times clipping in his wallet, even though the clipping was an addendum to the report.
But these clues never amounted to anything more than tantalizing glimpses of a movielike scenario, in which a hapless burglar gets his just deserts and a worthless painting gets passed from stooge to stooge like a bad check. Then the Picasso landed in the hands of Alfred and Stephen Mauriello.
In 1989, at about the same time Nancy Carter was visiting with the state police, a New York attorney named Marc Isaacs contacted Alvarez's attorney, claiming he had a client willing to return the purloined Picasso for a price.
"An individual came to me who informed me that he had in his possession what he believed to be 'La Mujer,'" Isaacs told New Times. "He had received it from someone who apparently had received it from someone else as a gift. The person who gave it to him was very ill and about to pass away."
Although Isaacs would not identify his client, the story of receiving it from a man who is now dead resembles the story that Alfred Mauriello told the FBI when he and Brian Kingman were caught with the painting in 1992 in Phoenix.
Whether Isaacs represented Mauriello or not, Alvarez refused to pay.
In 1991, "La Mujer" resurfaced once more, again in the possession of two men matching the descriptions of Alfred and Stephen Mauriello. According to the FBI report, "In August 1991, an elder man and a younger man who appeared to be on narcotics, calling themselves Allen and Stephen, came to [a Nevada art dealer] with an oil painting rolled up in a cardboard tube. They spoke like they came from Brooklyn, New York."