The Time Bandit

Nov 5, 2012 - by Deborah Rubin Fields - 0 Comments

In 1983, over 100 antique clocks – worth millions of dollars – were stolen from the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem

In 1983, over 100 antique clocks – worth millions of dollars – were stolen from the L.A.MayerMuseum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. It took 25 years for the clocks to find their way back home. Sometimes it just takes time to solve a crime.

by Deborah Rubin Fields

Have you ever been stumped by a puzzle? Admittedly, some puzzles take a long time to solve. I think you’ll agree, however, it does seem to be “stretching it” to plug away at a puzzle for 25 years.

Yet, Jews are known as a “stiff-necked people (Exodus 32:9).”  So perhaps this explains why Israeli police struggled for a quarter of a century to solve the puzzle of 102 (a number of media reports had stated 106) missing clocks. One spring night in 1983, these time pieces disappeared from Jerusalem’s L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art.  

You’ve probably figured out that these museum clocks were not your utilitarian house or office clocks. They weren’t meant to hang on your kitchen wall or to sit on your nightstand. They were classy antiques. Some were inlaid with jewels. Many had been cast from gold. One had even belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette.

Altogether, they were worth millions of dollars. So you see why the police wanted to crack the clock mystery. Given the magnitude of the theft, a special task force within the Israeli police (which is a national service) was set up to work on this case. Reportedly, Interpol was contacted and the company which had insured the collection hired private investigators.

For years, police theorized that only a group of robbers could have taken so many clocks at one time. It turned out, however, that one thief did the job.

The alleged thief was Naaman Diller/Lidor (he was known by both last names) He found out that he could play his competence off of the museum’s then incompetence. For example, he realized that the museum’s alarm did not work. Thus, he did not have to disable a security system. While the museum windows apparently had burglar bars, they were more for show than anything else. Consequently, the thief was strong enough to bend a few bars. Moreover, as a skinny person, he had no difficulty entering and exiting undetected with the stolen clocks and placing them in his truck outside.

Many of the clocks were physically small and relatively lightweight (i.e., pocket-size time pieces). Thus, it probably wasn't too difficult to remove them, and/or to hide them as he took most of them out of Israel. Some were hidden in Holland, some in France and the rest went to the United States. Several even ended up in the home he set up in the Los Angeles area.

But Lidor did not always live in the United States. Following the robbery, he apparently lived on and off in Tel Aviv. In fact, in the first years of 2000, he reportedly was hospitalized in Israel's Tel HaShomer Hospital with skin cancer complications. When told that the cancer had spread to the bone, however, he refused radiation. In 2004, he died in his Tel Aviv apartment and was buried at Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh, his birth place. 

Ironically, because these clocks were of such great monetary value and so well-known, Lidor had found it was very hard to sell them on the open market. He had succeeded in selling less than than 10 percent of the stolen collection. So the majority of these stunning time pieces spent 25 years locked up and unseen. In the end, he willed the clocks to his wife, Israeli ex-pat Nili Shamrat.

Purportedly, within a few years of Lidor’s death, an attorney representing the widow entered into a quiet, negotiated “buy-back” with the museum. According to the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art, in 2006, 39 of the original 102 stolen clocks were returned. The police caught wind of this. That’s when they really started to piece together the puzzle. Two years down the road, the case further unraveled.

Again, the museum officially states that investigators located the remaining clocks in various bank safes. Various newspaper sources claim that the remaining clocks were located in France and in Holland. In any case, thanks to the plodding work of the Israeli police, the clocks and watches have since made their way back to the museum “stage.”  Today, even someone who is not well acquainted with modern security technology can see that the clock exhibit's security system is now sophisticated. 

In the United States, the widow was charged with receiving stolen property. In 2010, however, she received a sentence of five years' probation and 300 hours of community service. In her defense, her lawyer successfully maintained that she was a victim of circumstances, that is, her new husband (although they'd been "together" for many years, they'd been married for only a year when he died) had "spilled the beans" near the time of his death, and had left her the clocks.

In hindsight, the American lawyer’s claim that client Nili Shamrat had been a victim of circumstances is somewhat implausible given these points: (1) Probably, most people who inherit a unique antique clock collection would at least wonder (if not ask) about its origin, one which is all the more curious given that Lidor had been raised on a humble kibbutz (a communal living project) until he left in1959 at age 20, (2) Lidor had bank robbery convictions and had served Israeli prison time and (3) as a rule, even ex-pat Israelis remain connected to their place of birth. Thus, it is likely that Nili Shamrat had heard about the clock robbery, as at the time it was big news in Israel.

So you be the judge: With time, were all the elements of this case solved?

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