To Catch a Thief 

Police nab the burglar who stole an Artrageous charity item

Police nab the burglar who stole an Artrageous charity item

It was the kind of flea-brained caper you’d likely see in a Coen brothers’ movie. During the silent auction portion of the Artrageous benefit held at the Gaylord Entertainment Center Saturday, an unidentified thief stole the priciest painting of the evening, “The Big Apple,” by local artist Joey Clay.

The suspect, Robert Manus, however, was apparently new at this whole stealing thing. As he was leaving the Arena with the object of his thievery clutched by his side, he encountered a gentleman who had unsuccessfully bid for “The Big Apple.” Thinking the thief actually was the rightful owner of the painting, the bidder congratulated Manus on his purchase. According to an initial police report, Manus then offered to resell the painting right then and there for $1,000 in cash, $1500 less than what it went for at the silent auction. Saying that he spent too much on the painting, Manus explained that he needed to cut his losses.

The bidder didn’t have enough cash on him to complete the exchange, but he did give the thief his business card. The next day Manus called the bidder, who began to grow suspicious. He called the police, and after a quick investigation, central patrol officer Paul Harris found the bad guy. Late Tuesday evening, Manus was arrested near his home and charged with theft of property. Interestingly, a friend of Manus’ managed to get possession of the painting, and she promptly returned it to event organizers.

Clay, a self-taught artist who makes his living as a hairdresser, now has regained possession of his well-traveled painting and is repairing a small part of it that had been damaged. Bid for $2,550 from a Dallas-area visitor, the painting will be sent to its rightful owner in a few days. That will complete the silent auction’s impressive take—estimated at nearly $25,000 for its paintings alone, $9,000 more than what it earned last year. Proceeds go to Nashville CARES, a local AIDS-related social service agency.

But as the auction becomes more of a big money affair, it could use a security overhaul. A few years ago, a drunken patron slipped past oblivious security staffers with a painting he didn’t buy. He returned the piece when he sobered up the next morning, but local artists complained that security at the silent auction was about as loose as Delta Burke’s stockings.

Organizers of Artrageous promise changes for the 2001 event. “This rarely happens, but it was enough of a wake-up call where next year we will do something differently,” says Lissa Kelley, who chairs the auction.

Tantalizingly, sources tell the Scene that Manus is himself an artist. Fortunately, there was little art to his theft.

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