Bellaire officer tracks down $40,000 missing art mystery

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - This is a story about a painting, a very valuable painting stolen over 13 years ago.

It's a $40,000 painting created by the famous, French, post-impressionist, Gaston La Touche, Touche, which in French means, I have scored on you.

In this case, this story is about a very, tenacious cop named Russell Brown who scored big time, by recovering a beautiful piece of artwork missing for over a decade.

Gaston La Touche was an 1800's post-impressionist who would have marveled at the artistic police work that Bellaire Police Officer Russell Brown was able to pull off.

It was Brown's dogged detective work and creativity that led to the recovery of Touche's "Woman Under The Tree," which was stolen in a massive art burglary 13 years ago.

"If you are looking for a stolen television or a stolen gun, there's always a serial number, or some kind of identifying marks, this was an unsigned piece of artwork", Brown said.

This particular piece of art was bought at auction by a wealthy Houston family and then was stolen from their home during a Christmas week burglary back in 2000.It vanished.

That's when it suddenly appeared in the backseat of a car that Bellaire Police had stopped for running a red light.

The rattled driver who had been pulled over claimed the painting belonged to him, but Officer Brown had a gut instinct that told him this extraordinary, painting could not belong to this guy.

Knowing there had to be more to this case; Brown began searching website after website looking for information on stolen artwork.

It took hours of patient research, but in the end Brown found La Touche's painting, "Woman Under The Trees".

He called the man who had the painting and made an artful deal.  He promised not charge or arrest the man if he would turn the painting over to him no questions asked.

It all worked to perfection, the painting is now in the hands of The Bellaire Police Department, awaiting return to its rightful owner.

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