When The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo on February 12, 1994, it sent shockwaves around the world.
Edvard Munch’s world-famous painting – dubbed ‘Norway’s Mona Lisa’ due to her fame – was slashed on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, 85 miles from Oslo, turning the great ceremony into a national embarrassment.
The daring art heist turned into a thrilling crime adventure involving the Norwegian government, undercover agents and Scotland Yard’s specialist Art and Antiques unit.
Now a new documentary, The Man Who Stole The Scream, hears the full story of the only person to go to jail for the crime, former professional footballer Pal Enger, now 56.
Cutting an uninviting figure, the chain-smoking Norwegian explains how he had been obsessed with the 1893 expressionist painting ever since he first saw it on a school trip. His portrayal of a waif-like character holding his head in despair spoke to the young boy, who was then living with an abusive stepfather.
When The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo on February 12, 1994, it sent shockwaves around the world. Used stock image
“My obsession with this image started the first time I saw it,” Enger recalls. “As soon as I approached the image, I had an extraordinary feeling. Of anxiety. Strange things in my head. I immediately had such an intense connection with The Scream. And it never left me.
Enger’s education in a difficult field in Oslo was essential to his future career. As a teenager, he became a promising footballer, but at the same time became a skilled vehicle and jewelry thief, hoarding cars and boats, while remaining under the radar of the police. “But I wanted more,” he explains. “I always liked attention. I wanted money and fame. But at that time, I mostly wanted to show the world that I could achieve something huge.
In 1988, he hatched his original plan to steal The Scream with another thief, but Enger’s planning went awry and they nabbed Munch’s painting The Vampire instead. After getting caught and spending four years in prison, Enger’s feelings of failure caused him to reconsider his goal of stealing The Scream – this time it would be when most police forces Oslo were at the Lillehammer Olympics.
Ironically, Enger perfected his master plan while still in prison for stealing The Vampire. “I learned so much in prison,” he says. ‘The other prisoners called me ‘The Asking Man’ because I was always asking, ‘How do you do that? How are you doing that?’ Before I was an ordinary criminal, maybe. But by the time I got out of prison, I was an expert.
On the fateful day in 1994, two of Enger’s accomplices put his master plan into action. In the early hours of the morning, they leaned a ladder against the National Gallery, smashed a window, stole the painting and left a note saying, “Thank you for the poor security”, all within 50 seconds.
Enger was thrilled to fulfill his dream of having The Scream in his possession. “When I got control of it, I was so happy,” he says. “I felt so good, like I was walking a meter off the ground. I felt power.
As world headlines screamed the news of the theft, the red-faced Norwegian police immediately suspected Enger, but had no proof. He taunted them, calling them false leads and announcing in a newspaper that his newborn son had come into the world “with a scream”.
Pal Enger, pictured, is proud that he was the only one to have served time for the crime. After the Norwegian police failed to investigate, they sought help from Scotland Yard’s specialist art theft unit.
Enger had successfully achieved his goal of getting a plus on the police. “I don’t think I really understood how much that meant to the National Gallery, the police and everyone else,” says Enger. “I made fun of them on national television.”
After the Norwegian police failed to investigate, they sought help from Scotland Yard’s specialist art theft unit. By then, Enger’s criminal contacts had heard of the cash reward being offered and were harassing his wife and friends, leaving him shaken.
Then, when one of his accomplices approached Norwegian art dealers to sell the painting, the Met brass got wind of it and sprang into action. They hatched an outrageous plan to have experienced undercover detective Charley Hill (who died in 2021 but is featured in this documentary) pose as a swaggering representative of California’s wealthy Getty Museum. Hill traveled to Norway to inquire about the painting’s purchase, and despite Enger’s fears that it was a sting from the police, he grew weary of his game of tag and tell. mouse.
He gave The Scream to his accomplice Bjorn Grytdal to sell to the Getty Museum. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ve had it long enough,'” Enger said. I was totally sure that the police had almost no evidence against me, so the only one they could arrest was Bjorn.
The police intervened and three months after his theft, The Scream was found. But Enger’s hopes of escaping prosecution were dashed – four men were charged, including Enger, who in 1996 was sentenced to six years and three months in prison, while his accomplices had their convictions overturned for a technical detail.
Enger achieved the fame – or more accurately, notoriety – that he had always dreamed of. Perversely, he even wears his conviction for stealing The Scream as a badge of honor. “The one thing I love is that no one else has been convicted of it and no one else is credited with it,” Enger says. “This is my story.”
The Man Who Stole the Scream, Saturday, 9 p.m., Sky Documentaries.