Nils M. faces an 8-year sentence for art theft

DNA evidence isn’t usually a part of art theft investigation. But Nils M., a Dutch man, left behind such evidence at not one, but two recent major heists.

In March 2020, security footage at the Groninger Museum in Groninger showed a man breaking two glass doors with a sledgehammer. The man then walked away with the 1884 Van Gogh painting “The Parsonage Garden and Nuenen in Spring.” He left pieces of the painting’s broken frame in the parking lot before driving away, some of which had scraped his skin and trapped hair.

In August 2020, the same man broke open the back door of the tiny Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam. This time, he stole “Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer,” a 17th century painting by Dutch artist Frans Hals. DNA was recovered this from a canvas cargo strap left behind.

Other similarities in the heists support the idea that they were related. Both took place shortly after 3 am, involved heavy force for breaking and entering, and involved an accomplice and a getaway on a scooter.

When the DNA evidence was examined, it matched samples already in the system, leading authorities to 59-year-old Nils M. (Dutch privacy laws redact full names), who had already served 5 years for an art theft in 2012. When he was arrested, police found him in possession of a firearm and an extreme quantity of ecstasy, both illegal in the Netherlands.

A three-panel judge found Nils M. guilty of the two more recent thefts, but neither painting has been recovered. Nils M. maintains his innocence and has not named any accomplice.

“Breaking into a museum and taking paintings by artists who are world famous, pieces that belong to our cultural heritage, that are irreplaceable,” was “totally unacceptable,” the prosecutor in the case, Gabriëlle Hoppenbrouwers, said in court earlier this month, according to a copy of the indictment.

Prosecutors are seeking an eight-year sentence.

Image: Editorial credit: Rudmer Zwerver /