Meet Don Hrycyk, the LAPD’s Veteran Art Detective

Detective Don Hrycyk , LAPD Art Theft Detail, reflected gazes at a fake Mary Cassatt painting Portrait of Miss Saltonstall at the Los Angeles Police Department in downtown Los Angeles. Courtesy Ed Crisostomo/the Los Angeles Register.
Detective Don Hrycyk , LAPD Art Theft Detail, reflected gazes at a fake Mary Cassatt painting Portrait of Miss Saltonstall at the Los Angeles Police Department in downtown Los Angeles. Courtesy Ed Crisostomo/the Los Angeles Register.

 

Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail, the only unit of its kind in the country, has cracked some impressive cases, reports the Los Angeles Register. Sixty-three-year-old detective Don Hrycyk, the squad’s leader and only member, has been a full-time art cop for 20 years, and has been on the force for twice as long.

Over the decades, working mostly without a partner, he’s recovered over $107 million worth of stolen goods. “These are big cases, multimillion-dollar cases. The problem is that it was never meant for one person, wandering a city of 4 million people and handling these cases alone,” he told the Register.

Hrycyk often turns to curators, experts, and academics for help identifying fakes, appraising the genuine article, and learning about the artists involved in his cases. Other times, he gets tips online from interested parties eager to help.

The detective’s reports, available on the Art Theft Detail’s website, outline a plethora of cases, many of which take years if not decades to crack, and some of which remain unsolved. “It may be six months later. It has been, in the past, 30 years later, but a tip comes up and you’re off and running again,” Hrycyk said.

Either way, the tales of museum heists, clever forgeries, and stolen antiquities have a distinctly Hollywood gloss. In one memorable case, Hrycyk followed a lead on a 10-year-old New York theft of Tibetan artifacts, tracking the suspected thief, a friend of the rightful owner, to a Los Angeles home. There, amid hay and a literal pigsty (yes, there were real pigs on the premises), were the stolen objects, now dusty and chipped from neglect.

Other career highlights include an impostor count whose heist went off without a hitch—except that the Francisco Goya painting was actually a fake—and the $3.5 million Stradivarius cello stolen from the front porch of Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Peter Stumpf when he accidentally left it out overnight. Commonly, Hrycyk is called on to track down sentimental heirlooms that have been taken by friends or family.

At the end of the day, says Hrycyk, “my work has lasting value…to ultimately find something like that, and to bring it back to people that appreciate it and deserve to have it—as opposed to some thug—is very satisfying.”


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