Unravelling the yarn… Leonardo’s stolen Madonna of the Yarnwinder

Posted on: December 1st, 2011

We saw this story in the Daily Mail and thought we would share a short summary!
The story began in 2003 at Drumlanrig Castle, Scotland, the ancestral home of 80-year-old Duke of Buccleuch. Two men posing as tourists arrived at the castle and snatched the £30 million Madonna of the Yarnwinder (c.1501), an early Leonardo da Vinci oil painting off the wall. With the art world alerted, the search began to recover the painting, but nothing was seen or heard of it for four years. Until ‘Private detectives’ Robbie Graham and John Doyle were charged with conspiring to extort millions for the safe return of the painting.

Happy ending? Indeed not, according to Graham and Doyle they were the heroes! The men claimed they were acting as middle men, having recovered the painting from a ‘Liverpool businessman’ who had contacted them through their company website ‘Stolen Stuff Reunited’. (A rather strange story, have you ever heard of thieves’ googling a website?) Graham and Doyle then secured the painting’s return with £700,000, the money being provided by local solicitor, Marshall Ronald. Ronald had been negotiating the paintings return and monetary reward with solicitors acting for the Duke’s insurers, Hiscox. The day of the exchange, Graham and Doyle handed over the cash and walked away with the painting. However on returning the picture, Ronald’s contact at Hiscox, was revealed to be an undercover policeman, and having been privy to the painting’s exchange and Ronald’s insistence for a reward, the police arrested the three men. Meanwhile, according to the three men the ‘real criminals’ were getting away with their £700,000.

So, the case hinged on whether the undercover policeman had infiltrated an existing conspiracy or led Ronald, Graham and Doyle into a trap by agreeing to a reward. When the case finally went to court, Graham and Doyle were cleared of extortion with the Scottish jury announced a verdict of ‘not proven’ (an odd third verdict, in which there may not have bee enough evidence for a guilty/ not guilty verdict).

Happy ending? Well the painting was returned safely, Graham and Doyle cleared and 2 other men somewhere have £700 000. The painting can currently be seen at the Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan until the 5th of February.