How I stole The Scream… in 50 seconds: The man behind the audacious heist of Munch’s priceless painting tells his astonishing story in a new show
- Pal Enger, now 56, stole The Scream from Oslo’s National Gallery in 1994
- READ MORE: Homeowners spend £200,000 removing Banksy’s seagull mural after house became target for thieves
When The Scream was stolen from Oslo’s National Gallery on 12 February 1994, it sent shockwaves around the world.
The world-famous painting by Edvard Munch – dubbed ‘Norway’s Mona Lisa’ because of its renown – was nicked on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, 85 miles from Oslo, turning the grand ceremony into a national embarrassment.
The audacious art heist resulted in a thrilling crime caper 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 whole story from the only person to go to jail for the crime, former professional footballer Pal Enger, now 56.
Cutting an unprepossessing figure, the chain-smoking Norwegian explains how he’d been fixated on the 1893 Expressionist painting since he first saw it on a school trip. Its depiction of a waif-like figure clutching his or her head in despair spoke to the young boy, who was then living with a violent stepfather.
When The Scream was stolen from Oslo’s National Gallery on 12 February 1994, it sent shockwaves around the world. Stock image used
‘My obsession with this picture started the first time I saw it,’ recalls Enger. ‘As soon as I got close to the picture I got an extraordinary feeling. Of anxiety. Strange things in my head. I had such an intense connection with The Scream right away. And it’s never left me.’
Enger’s upbringing on a rough estate in Oslo was pivotal to his future career. In his teens he became a promising footballer, but at the same time developed into a skilled vehicle and jewellery thief, amassing cars and boats, while remaining under the police’s radar. ‘But I wanted more,’ he explains. ‘I always liked attention. I wanted money and fame. But at that time I most wanted to show the world I could pull off something huge.’
In 1988 he hatched his initial plan to steal The Scream with a fellow 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 drove him to revisit his goal of stealing The Scream – this time it would be while most of Oslo’s police force were at the Lillehammer Olympics.
Ironically, Enger perfected his masterplan while still in prison for pilfering The Vampire. ‘I learned so much in prison,’ he says. ‘The other prisoners called me ‘The Asking Man’ because I asked all the time, ‘How do you do this? How do you do that?’ Before I was an ordinary criminal, maybe. But by the time I left prison I was an expert.’
On the fateful day in 1994, two of Enger’s accomplices put his masterplan into action. In the early hours of the morning they propped a ladder against the National Gallery, broke a window, stole the painting and left a note that said, ‘Thank you for the bad security’, all within 50 seconds.
Enger was overjoyed at achieving his dream of having The Scream in his possession. ‘When I had control of it I was so happy,’ he says. ‘I felt so good, like I was walking one metre from the ground. I felt power.’
As global headlines screamed news of the theft, the red-faced Norwegian police immediately suspected Enger, but had no proof. He taunted them, calling them with false leads and announcing in a newspaper that his newborn son had arrived into the world ‘with a scream’.
Pal Enger, pictured, is proud of the fact he was the only one to serve time for the crime. After the Norwegian police investigation stalled, they asked for help from Scotland Yard’s specialist Art Theft unit
Enger had successfully achieved his aim of getting one over on the police. ‘I don’t think I really understood completely how much it meant for the National Gallery, the police and everyone,’ says Enger. ‘I made a fool of them on national TV.’
After the Norwegian police investigation stalled, they asked for help from Scotland Yard’s specialist Art Theft unit. By this time, Enger’s criminal contacts had heard about the reward money on offer and were harassing his wife and friends, leaving him shaken.
Then, when one of his accomplices approached Norwegian art dealers about selling the painting, the Met coppers got wind of it and swung into action. They hatched an outrageous plan for experienced undercover detective Charley Hill (who died in 2021 but who features in this documentary) to pose as a swaggering representative of California’s wealthy Getty Museum. Hill travelled to Norway to enquire about buying the painting, and despite Enger’s fears that it was a police sting, he was growing weary of his cat-and-mouse game.
He handed The Scream to his accomplice Bjorn Grytdal to sell to the Getty Museum. ‘I felt, ‘Maybe I have had it long enough,’ says Enger. ‘Maybe just drop all those dreams I had of the game to come. I was totally sure the police had almost no evidence against me, so the only one they could arrest was Bjorn.’
The police swooped, and three months after its theft The Scream was recovered. But Enger’s hopes of escaping prosecution were in vain – 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 on a technicality.
Enger achieved the fame – or more accurately, notoriety – he had always craved. Perversely, he even wears his conviction for stealing The Scream as a badge of honour. ‘The one thing I like is nobody else was sentenced for it, and nobody else gets credit for it,’ says Enger. ‘It’s my story.’
The Man Who Stole The Scream, Saturday, 9pm, Sky Documentaries.
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