Caller leads LAPD to $800,000 in stolen artwork

This photo provided by Michael Flaum shows some of the Benjamin Creme artwork that Los Angeles police detectives have recovered.

This time, detectives didn’t have to track down the stolen art. Someone brought it to them.

Los Angeles police said Tuesday that they recovered $800,000 worth of prints by Scottish abstract expressionist Benjamin Creme after a caller said they were in a home in San Fernando. Police believe the nearly 1,300 prints were there for several years, but the caller who had them only recently checked a law-enforcement database and discovered they were stolen.

The caller, who was not identified, told police they were found among a relative’s possessions after she died.

“The family took the stuff and had it stored in their house for several years when they finally started going through it and discovered the art was stolen,” Detective Steven Franssen said. “They immediately packed it up and took it to the police station.”

The prints, each signed and numbered, include “Flame-Coloured Deva,” “Shakti II” and other colorful works by Creme, who in later years became better known for his belief in UFOs and predictions of a second coming of Christ and other messiahs. He died in London in 2016 at age 93.


Franssen said police returned the prints earlier this week to their incredulous owner, lithographer Michael Flaum, who made them. “He was extremely shocked when we called,” the detective said, chuckling. “He didn’t even believe it was the police department at first.”

Flaum said he discovered the theft one day in 2012 when he went to a locker where he had 2,300 prints stored. He would sell some from time to time to raise money for the artist, who in his later years was spending more time with metaphysical pursuits. When Flaum got to the locker he discovered it had been broken into and cleaned out. He said 974 prints are still missing, but he wasn’t thinking too much about that on Tuesday.

“I was just thrilled to get them back,” he said. “I’m so happy for the [Creme] family.”

Franssen said police still don’t know how the prints wound up in possession of the woman who has since died, but he added that police don’t believe any of her family members had any role.

Creme, who was born in Glasgow in 1922, was 13 when he decided to devote himself to art and began painting and drawing constantly. Early works included landscapes, but by the 1940s he had turned more to colorful abstracts.

Beginning in the 1960s, he began to turn his attention to metaphysical issues, saying in writings and lectures that he was communicating telepathically with a “master.” He developed a new form of meditation in 1974 called Transmission Meditation and began publishing several books, according to the Benjamin Creme Museum website. At one point, he claimed Jesus Christ and other messiahs had returned to Earth but hadn’t revealed themselves.