Los Angeles Police Have Recovered $800,000 Worth of Missing Scottish Spiritual Art From a Private Home, Ending a Seven-Year Mystery

Police in Los Angeles have recovered a stolen trove of signed prints by the late Scottish abstract artist and spiritualist Benjamin Creme.

An unnamed person alerted authorities in late September after discovering nearly 1,300 prints in a deceased relative’s storage unit in the LA suburb of San Fernando.

“Upon looking through the items from the deceased relative, the reporting person discovered the artwork was stolen after visiting a law enforcement website and immediately notified authorities,” the Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement. The LAPD estimates the objects are altogether worth $800,000.

Earlier this week, the prints were returned to their original owner, lithographer Michael Flaum. Flaum worked directly with Creme to make the prints in the 1960s and ’70s.

“He was extremely shocked when we called,” Steven Franssen, the LAPD detective on the case, told the Associated Press. “He didn’t even believe it was the police department at first.”

Benjamin Creme in November 1983. Photo: Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

Benjamin Creme in November 1983. Photo: Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

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

The works were part of a cache of roughly 2,200 prints reported stolen from a storage facility owned by Flaum in West Los Angeles in 2012. How they came to the deceased person in San Fernando is not currently known, although Franssen said he did not believe any of the person’s family members were involved. Another 974 prints, also taken in the heist, remain missing.

Born in Glasgow in 1922, Creme devoted himself to art as a teenager. He gained notoriety in the 1940s when he switched from painting landscapes to colorful abstractions. By the 1960s, he had become deeply spiritual, amassing legions of followers while prophesying the second coming of Jesus Christ, whom he believed to be a deity called Maitreya the World Teacher.

Creme died in London in 2016 at age 93. Late in Creme’s life, Flaum would occasionally sell one of the prints in storage to fund the artist’s research into metaphysics.

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