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Stolen Rembrandt found in Southern California

From Scott Thompson, CNN
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Police recover stolen Rembrandt sketch
  • NEW: Whoever stole Rembrandt sketch may have dumped it at a church, police say
  • NEW: The sketch, stolen Saturday from a Marina del Rey hotel, is undamaged, police say
  • The 10-inch by 6-inch sketch called "The Judgment" dates to 1655

(CNN) -- Whoever stole a sketch by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn from a hotel apparently dumped the piece in a church building, perhaps daunted by the prospect of trying to unload it amid widespread media coverage, a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective said Tuesday.

Detective Clarence Williams said it looks like the thief or thieves tried to peel away the paper backing from the sketch's frame in an effort to remove it, but stopped before doing any damage. They may have realized the piece would be hard to sell, he said, and opted to leave it where it was found, in an unlocked building at an Encino church he declined to identify.

It was not being displayed in the church, Williams said.

An anonymous tip led to the recovery of the pen-and-ink sketch, which has an estimated value of $250,000.

Investigators are reviewing surveillance video in hope of identifying a suspect, said sheriff's office spokesman Steve Whitmore. Authorities may also soon release a composite sketch, he said.

"When the curator then turned back to the exhibit ... it was gone,"
--Steve Whitmore, Los Angles County sheriff spokesman

"There are no arrests. We have no one in custody," he said.

The artwork found in the church has not been formally authenticated as the genuine article, but authorities have been told it appears to be, Whitmore said. The piece will be authenticated soon, Williams said.

The piece is known as "The Judgment." It was taken from an exhibit in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey Saturday night, officials said. It measures some 10 inches by 6 inches and is dated around 1655.

It was stolen when a curator was distracted by another person who appeared interested in buying something, according to Whitmore.

"When the curator then turned back to the exhibit ... it was gone," he said.

Whitmore declined to say whether the person who distracted the curator is suspected in the theft. But he said authorities believe more than one person was involved.