Mexican police, not renowned for their detective work, remain in the dark about the fate of more than 170 priceless pre-Hispanic artifacts stolen on Christmas Day from Mexico City’s anthropology museum.
The stolen Mayan and Aztec relics, most of them either gold or jade, were small enough to fit into a medium-sized suitcase. Museum authorities believe the theft was the work of an ‘international mafia’, probably commissioned by a fanatical private collector.
Scores of other theories have been put forward as to the motives for the theft, but one that has been discounted is that the thieves might plan to sell the pieces on the international market. The objects are so well known that no one would dare to buy them.
‘I can’t see anybody in their right mind touching them with a ten-foot pole,’ said an American archaeologist.
Among the theories put forward is that the thieves might ask the Mexican Government for a ransom. Hoping money was the motive, the Friends of the Museum of Anthropology have put up posters all over the Mexican capital and in various American cities offering a reward of 50 million pesos (pounds 80,000) for information leading to the recovery of the treasures.
However, since just one of the pieces – an Aztec vase in the shape of a monkey – is reckoned to be worth pounds 16 million, it is felt a much greater inducement will be required before anyone comes forward.
One of the biggest horrors of archaeologists and historians – one of whom described the theft as ‘a cultural earthquake’ – is that the thieves might be stupid enough to melt down the 99 gold artifacts in their loot.
But the experts are confident that the theft is the work of professionals. It is suspected that at least one of the robbers – thought to have been three in total – was an authority on pre-Columbian art. The pieces were intelligently selected.
Museum authorities are increasingly convinced that the robbers acted on orders from an obsessive and wealthy collector. They suspect, also, that the pieces are now in the United States, although active attempts at collaboration between Mexican and US police have yielded no clues.
The eight museum guards on duty when the pre-dawn robbery happened on December 25 have been dismissed and may be charged with criminal negligence. Initial suspicions that they may have been involved were dismissed after reports that they were either sleeping or drunk when the thieves entered the building.
In the morning empty glasses and cakes were found in the museum, suggesting the guards had enjoyed a small Christmas Eve celebration.
Police are calling this the ‘Santa Claus robbery’. It has emerged that the thieves entered the museum through a basement door and clambered through the building’s air conditioning ducts to the treasures.
The crime was discovered some five hours after the thieves had left and not reported to the police for another eight hours. It took a further 24 hours for US Customs officials to be notified.
A famous Aztec sculpture, known as The Plumed Coyote, was stolen from the museum 20 years ago and recovered in the US a year later. Another Mexican sculpture stolen in the 1970’s – more than 1,000 years old – also surfaced north of the border.