NEW YORK—The FBI is seeking the public’s help in rounding up more than a half-million dollars’ worth of artworks that were stolen in 1983 from the New York City home of an artist known for his scenes of the American West.
The missing art may be linked to a former police detective whose 1985 killing was never solved.
The 91-year-old artist, Gregory Perillo, said Friday that the break-in at his Staten Island home was “heartbreaking” and that he’d be happy to see the works recovered.
The 35 stolen paintings and sculptures depicted Old West themes like stagecoaches and Native Americans in traditional dress.
Although he was born in New York City to Italian immigrant parents, Perillo was interested in Native American history and culture from childhood and used to draw pictures of natives on brown paper bags, he said. He has also painted sports figures and a portrait of Ronald and Nancy Reagan with their horse.
Perillo’s paintings sell for up to $40,000 or $50,000, his son Stephen, who manages his father’s website, said.
Perillo said he and his wife, Mary, came home from a weekend away in the summer of 1983 to find the house ransacked and dozens of artworks gone.
Two pieces turned up at a Manhattan gallery in 1985, the FBI said.
Agent Christopher McKeogh of the bureau’s art crime team said Friday that another of the stolen pieces, a bronze sculpture of a native on a horse, was recovered in 2011 from a garbage bin at a construction site about a mile from Perillo’s home.
The FBI is seeking the public’s help in recovering the other pieces because whoever owns the artworks may not realize the works were stolen, McKeogh said.
“They could be hiding in plain sight,” McKeogh said. “They could be hanging on someone’s wall in their living room.”
About a week before the theft, McKeogh said, Perillo got an unsolicited visit from a man who said he was an NYPD detective interested in buying some of Perillo’s art.
Then in 1985, the body of a retired NYPD detective was found in a car. The man, whose killing was never solved, was in possession of images of some of the stolen works, McKeogh said.
An NYPD spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for information about the former detective.
Perillo, who moved to Clearwater, Florida, last year and still paints every day, said that if the stolen artworks are recovered he’ll donate them to a good cause.
“My papa always told me, ‘Gregory, when you have a career and you’re doing well, always give back,'” he said.
By Karen Matthews