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Authorities Get 2 Conflicting Confessions to Painting’s Theft

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators believe they have one confession too many in the theft of a 17th-Century Dutch painting recovered at the apartment of two Lancaster men who were arrested for stealing the $18,000 artwork.

The roommates, one of whom is an art student at Antelope Valley College where the painting was stolen Nov. 6, have both confessed to taking the painting off the wall of the college art gallery and walking out with it, Detective J. Siebert said Wednesday.

But Siebert believes only one person stole “Nymphs Gathering Flowers in a Landscape,” painted by Gerard Hoet the Elder before 1700. Each suspect says the other is innocent, Siebert said.

“They’re probably trying to protect each other,” he said. “Both say they don’t want the other one to get in trouble for something he didn’t do. I believe one is the thief and the other is an accessory.”

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Jereld Sharitz, 23, a student at the college, and Timothy Cain, a 27-year-old grocery clerk, were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of grand theft. Cain was arrested at their apartment in the 43300 block of Gadsen Avenue in Lancaster and Sharitz surrendered shortly afterward at the sheriff’s station, the detective said.

Siebert said he has been notified by the owner’s lawyer that the work, which was recovered in good condition, is worth about $18,000--considerably lower than the tentative estimate of $50,000 to $100,000 made by college officials.

Deputies served a search warrant Tuesday afternoon after an acquaintance of the suspects told Siebert he had seen the painting in their apartment and recognized it from news reports.

Sharitz was released on $1,500 bail, and Cain remained in custody Wednesday in lieu of the same bail amount, Siebert said.

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The theft last month abruptly ended the college’s first major art show “Great European Masterpieces,” an exhibit featuring 18 paintings owned by Lancaster businessman Kenneth McDonald. The show was monitored by a student aide and occasionally by security guards. The gallery alarm functions only when the building is closed for the night.

Sharitz told investigators he took the painting because he liked it and because it was nearest to the gallery entrance, Siebert said. Cain, meanwhile, said he stole the painting as a gift for Sharitz, Siebert said.

Gallery director Pat Hinds described Sharitz as a student with a “healthy interest in art. I was surprised. He’s a very nice person.”

Sharitz has been taking courses at the college since 1983, college officials said. This semester he is enrolled in a ceramics class taught in a room next to the gallery, they said.


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