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Many art thefts go unsolved, but one was just recently solved by happenstance and investigation. Dr. Earl Leroy Wood's Hoboken home was broken into in 1969, and valuable 18th-century artwork was taken. The English painter John Opie is the creator of the work, which is titled The Schoolmistress. It shows a stooped woman assisting kids with their homework. The painting vanished for many years, possibly falling into the hands of organised crime.

But the painting came to light again in 2020 after the death of a collector who had bought it without knowing about its shady past. It was reunited with its original owners' descendants by the FBI.

Opie, a young genius well-known for his portraits and scenes of rural life, painted The Schoolmistress in England in 1784. Dr. Wood paid $7,500 for it back in the 1930s. Gangsters Gerald Festa, Gerald Donnerstag, and Austin Costiglione broke into his home in the summer of 1969 and took the painting. During their subsequent testimony in court, they attributed their actions to controversial former New Jersey State Senator Anthony Imperiale, who was never actually charged or connected to the stolen painting. It appears that the painting has been owned by organised crime figures for many years. 

The painting was moved again in 1989 after mobster Joseph Covello, Sr. passed away. A gentleman who had no idea of its tainted history bought it in Florida. Trustees, however, examined that man's estate after his death in Utah in 2020. The responsible firm reported the painting to the FBI after realising it was a long-lost piece. The real history of the painting was discovered, thanks to some work done on behalf of the Woods family to support their own claim. It was recently reunited with Earl's now ninety-six-year-old son, Dr. Francis Wood. 

“It was an honour playing a role in recovering a significant piece of art and culture, and reuniting a family with its stolen heritage,” FBI Special Agent France said in a statement. “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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