An art thief who escaped after swiping three paintings from the Charleston County Public Library was nabbed Friday after he got greedy and returned to double-dip at the scene of the crime, Charleston police said.
A middle-age, bald man was seen on security video wearing a backpack as he entered the library and without the backpack inside the library. Video from the second heist was much clearer than the first video, authorities said.
Seven pieces of artwork, with a total value of $5,825, were stolen from exhibits in the Saul Alexander Gallery and the lobby at the Main Branch of the Calhoun Street library. The thefts occurred between Tuesday and Friday.
“We’re sure it’s the same person (in both incidents),” library Executive Director Doug Henderson said. “Nothing has been stolen prior to these two days. We have the person in the gallery on both days, kind of looking around, kind of being suspicious. ... Everything coincides with the timing of what happened.”
Robert Wayne Russell, 57, of Meeting Street was arrested Friday by Charleston police. He is charged with grand larceny and was being held in the Cannon Detention Center pending a bond hearing Saturday.
Three pieces of artwork that had been sold to a Reid Street business owner also were recovered, and police are trying to find the rest, according to the police department.
“The library is supposed to be a safe place and it always has been, so this shook us to the core,” said library spokeswoman Jamie Thomas. “This is hopefully a good resolution and hopefully everything will be recovered.”
Three pieces by artist Alizey Khan went missing from the gallery on Tuesday and one more disappeared on Friday, according to Thomas. Thursday, employees noticed the absence of three more pieces of art that were part of a lobby exhibit, two by Danita G. Cole and one by Sherry Browne, but they aren’t sure when those pieces were taken.
“What we lost isn’t so much the monetary value, but we don’t want to lose the trust of the art community,” Henderson said. “We want to be able to share artists with the public without fear that someone’s going to come in and try to ruin it for all of us.”
The theft represented a third of the work on display for “Interspatial,” the first solo show for Khan, 23, a recent graduate of the College of Charleston. The recovered art was Khan’s three most expensive pieces: Pleiades, valued at $800; Eagle Nebula, valued at $700; and Nebula, valued at $950.
“I thought maybe it would be someone I know, but it’s nobody I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said.
Artist Sherry Browne, whose paper cut work “Pink Porgy” was stolen, said she has exhibited at the library for many years without incident.
“Artists always, when they put their work out, know that something can happen to it,” she said. “It’s a dangerous world out there. I’m surprised that someone would come in in broad daylight and attempt to do this, but they succeeded. ... I want it not to close down the whole system because of one bad apple. I think that would be a real mistake.”
The gallery is closed and the lobby display removed until the library puts tighter security measures in place.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Twitter @brindge.