Jerry and Rita Alter retained themselves. They were a wonderful couple, neighbors in the little New Mexico city of Cliff would later tell the reporters. But nobody knew much about them.
They may have hidden a decades old secret, whose pieces now only show up. Among them:
- After the couple died, a stolen Willem de Kooning painting was discovered with an estimated value of $ 160 million in his bedroom.
- For the same time, the same painting disappeared the day after Thanksgiving from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson.
- And on Wednesday, August 1, the Arizona republic reported that a family picture had arisen and showed that the day before the painting disappeared, the couple was actually in Tucson.
The next morning a man and a woman would enter the museum and leave 1
The man walked up to the second floor of the museum while the woman made a call with the guard. A few minutes later, the man came back down, and the two went on suddenly, according to the NPR interview and other media reports.
When you felt that something was not right, the guard went upstairs. There he saw an empty frame where the Kooning's "Woman-Ocher" had hung.
At that time the museum had no surveillance cameras. The police found no fingerprints. A witness described seeing a rust-colored sports car drive away but did not get the number plate number. For 31 years the frame was empty.
In 2012, Jerry left Alter. His widow, Rita Alter, died five years later.
After death, the painting returned to the museum. The FBI is investigating theft.
Did the quiet couple living in a three-bedroom ranch on Mesa Road steal "Woman-Ocher" and get away with it?
De Kooning, who died in 1997, was one of the most outstanding painters in midcentury abstract expressionist movement. "Woman III", another painting in the same series as "Woman-Ocher", was sold for $ 137.5 million in 2006. The work of the Kooning is still among the most tradable in the world.
Alternatives had moved to Cliff, the population 293, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, according to the Silver City Daily Press. H. Jerome Alter, who went to Jerry, had been a professional musician and a teacher in New York City schools before joining New Mexico, wrote under "About the Author" in "Aesop's Fables Set in Verse" a book he published in 2011.
"His main avocation has been an adventure trip," said the biographical sketch, adding that he had visited "over 140 countries on all continents, including both polar areas."
Rita Alter, who died 2017 at the age of 81, had worked as a speech pathologist on the local school system after the couple moved to New Mexico, reported the Daily Press. Her former colleagues remembered her as "nice but quiet", a friendly woman who was good with children but volunteered not much information about her life.
In 2011, one year before his death, Jerry published a book of short stories, "The Cup and the Lip: Exotic Tales." The stories were "a merging of timeliness and imagination," he wrote in the preface. Although there were no literary masterpieces, the Kooning discovery revealed.
The "Jaguar's Eye" is about Lou, a security guard at an art museum. One day, a middle-aged woman and her 14-year-old granddaughter appear. The older woman asks Lou about the story of a praised emerald on the display. Six months later, she returns to her grandson, then leaves it in rush.
"Wow, these two seem to be in a hurry, most unusual for visitors in such a place here," Lou thinks. He reinspects the room and recognizes emerald is gone. Running to the door he sees the couple running away and going out to stop them. The older woman fills the accelerator, crashes into Lou and kills him. Then the two speeds release and leave "absolutely no clues that the police can use to even start searching for them!"
Jerry Alter's fictional saga ends with a description of the emerald sitting in an empty space. "And two pairs of eyes, exclusively, are there to see!" It ends.
He could as easily have described the Kooning. But nobody thought about it until the painting was discovered in Alter's bedroom, where it had been placed in such a way that you could not see it if you were not inside the door closed.
After Rita Alter died her nephew, Ron Roseman, was appointed executive of the estate. He put the house on the market and started liquidating the content. On August 1, 2017, antique shops from the nearby city of Silver City came to see what was left.
One of the men, David Van Auker, would later recall a press conference that he saw "a good, cool midcentury painting." They bought it along with the rest of Alder's goods for $ 2000.
Silver City, an old mining town near Gila National Forest, has a high concentration of artists. So it did not take long after someone who recognized the importance of painting to walk into Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques.
"It had probably not been in the store an hour before the first person came in and got up and looked at it and said," I think this is a real de Kooning, "says Van Auker KOB tv in Albuquerque. "Of course we just brushed it away."
Then another customer said the same thing. And another.
It became apparent that the painting might be more valuable than originally thought. Van Auker and his partners Buck Burns and Rick Johnson hid it in the bathroom.
When the painting was secured, Van Auker made a Google search for the Kooning. It was then that he saw an article about the theft of "Woman-Ocher" and called the museum.  "I received a student receptionist and I told her," I think I have an art stolen from you guys, "he told WFAA tv in Dallas. "And she said," What bit? "And I said," De Kooning. "And she said," Please, please. ""
Miller, the museum's curator, told WFAA that what made her break was when Van Auker described how the painting had broken, as if it had been rewound. It was a detail that no one could have invented. The dimensions were one inch from "Woman – Ocher", which meant that it was cut out of the frame.
Van Auker painted him and stayed up all night with his weapons, he told Tucson Weekly. Every time he heard a branch scratching against the side of the house, he became wrinkled.
The following night a delegation from the museum came. When Miller entered, told Van Auker Daily Press, the room became silent.
"She went up to the painting, knocked her knees and looked. You could only feel the electricity," he recalls. Authentication would later confirm that it was a perfect match for the missing Kooning.
In the past year a handful of clues that potentially linked Alters to theft have arisen.
Several people told the New York Times that couples had a red sports car, similar to the one who appeared to leave the museum. The car is also shown in the home theater received by WFAA.
Some of the couple's pictures show Rita in a red coat like the woman in the museum, KOB reported. And Ruth Seawolf, the real estate agent who put Alter's house on the market, told Silver City Sun News that she had taken home a luggage set and inside a pair of glasses and a scarf matching the police description.
"In Alters Daily Planner, 1985, they took careful notes of what they ate, where they went and what medications they had," said KOB. "On Thanksgiving in 1985 they mysteriously left it empty."
And now, the family picture shows that they were in Tucson the night before the painting was stolen.
The survey has been going on for a year now. The FBI would not comment until the matter is closed.
People who knew Alters think it's hard to think of them as criminal masterminds. And opinions are mixed as to whether a sketch of the suspects resembles the couple.
"Composite sketches, afterwards, resemble faces in the Thanksgiving image, down to their side by side," wrote the Arizona Republic.
The New York Times, on the other hand, theorized: "The suspicious sketch of the female – described by the theft between 55 and 60 years old-resembles Mr. Alter, who was known as Jerry, and then 54. And the young man sketch – described at the time between 25 and 30 years old – resembles his son Joseph M. Alter, who was then 23. "
Alters had two children, Joseph and Barbara. Reporters from several news, including The Washington Post, have not been able to find any children. Several of the couple's acquaintances told The Times that Joseph Alter has severe psychological problems and has been institutionalized on and off since the 1980s.
Jerry Alter's sister, Carole Sklar, told the New York Times that the thought that her brother, his wife or son could have stolen the painting was "absurd," as well as the theory that her brother disguised himself in women's clothes. "I can not believe Rita would be involved in such a thing," said Mark Shay, one of her former co-workers, Daily Press. "I could see them buy a painting without knowing where it originally came from, maybe."
However, museum members told the Arizona republic that the painting seems to have only been restored once for 31 years it was missing. It suggests that it had only had an owner during that time.
Something else does not add. Jerry and Rita Alter worked in public schools for most of their careers. But somehow they said they managed to travel to 140 countries and all seven continents and documented their travels with tens of thousands of pictures.
And when they died, they had more than $ 1 million in their bank account, according to Sun News
"I suppose they were very economical," said their grandson, Ron Roseman, to WFAA.
Roseman could not be reached for comment on Thursday. But not long after "Woman-Ocher" resumed, he told Houston's KTRK television that he could not imagine that his aunt and uncle had stolen the painting.
"They were just nice people," he said.
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Story by Antonia Farzan.