Stolen Painting By John Opie Was Returned to Its Rightful Owners After More Than 50 Years

The FBI office in Salt Lake City, Utah, recently shared an intriguing story about how a stolen painting, The Schoolmistress, by English painter John Opie, was returned to its rightful owners after more than 50 years.

The Schoolmistress was painted by Opie in the late 18th century and features a group of children in a classroom. One kid is reading in front of the teacher while the others are grouped in the background.

In the 1930s, New Jersey-based Dr. Earl Wood acquired the painting during his trip to Europe, paying $7,500 for it. It remained in Wood’s family home until 1969 when a group of mafia members broke into the residence and stole it. In 1974, the thieves testified that they carried out the theft under instructions of New Jersey senator Anthony Imperiale, but he was never charged for it due to lack of evidence.

Since then, it is believed that The Schoolmistress changed hands several times before ending in the possession of James R Gullo, who acquired it as part of Florida property without knowing its true background.

After Gullo’s death, his family hired an accounting firm to liquidate his estate. While appraising The Schoolmistress, the firm found that it had been stolen and contacted the FBI. FBI Salt Lake City retrieved the painting and recently returned it to Wood’s son, Dr. Francis Wood.

“It was an honor playing a role in recovering a significant piece of art and culture, and reuniting a family with its stolen heritage,” Special Agent Gary France said. “In a world where criminal investigations often leave scars, it was a rare joy to be a part of a win-win case: a triumph for history, justice, and the Wood family.”

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