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The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist

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The extraordinary life and crimes of heiress-turned-revolutionary Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist. In the world of crime, there exists an unusual commonality between those who steal art and those who repeatedly kill: they are almost exclusively male. But, as with all things, there is always an outlier—someone who bucks the trend The extraordinary life and crimes of heiress-turned-revolutionary Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist. In the world of crime, there exists an unusual commonality between those who steal art and those who repeatedly kill: they are almost exclusively male. But, as with all things, there is always an outlier—someone who bucks the trend, defying the reliable profiles and leaving investigators and researchers scratching their heads. In the history of major art heists, that outlier is Rose Dugdale. Dugdale’s life is singularly notorious. Born into extreme wealth, she abandoned her life as an Oxford-trained PhD and heiress to join the cause of Irish Republicanism. While on the surface she appears to be the British version of Patricia Hearst, she is anything but. Dugdale ran head-first towards the action, spearheading the first aerial terrorist attack in British history and pulling off the biggest art theft of her time. In 1974, she led a gang into the opulent Russborough House in Ireland and made off with millions in prized paintings, including works by Goya, Gainsborough, and Rubens, as well as Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid by the mysterious master Johannes Vermeer. Dugdale thus became—to this day—the only woman to pull off a major art heist. And as Anthony Amore explores in The Woman Who Stole Vermeer, it’s likely that this was not her only such heist. The Woman Who Stole Vermeer is Rose Dugdale’s story, from her idyllic upbringing in Devonshire and her presentation to Elizabeth II as a debutante to her university years and her eventual radical lifestyle. Her life of crime and activism is at turns unbelievable and awe-inspiring, and sure to engross readers.


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The extraordinary life and crimes of heiress-turned-revolutionary Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist. In the world of crime, there exists an unusual commonality between those who steal art and those who repeatedly kill: they are almost exclusively male. But, as with all things, there is always an outlier—someone who bucks the trend The extraordinary life and crimes of heiress-turned-revolutionary Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist. In the world of crime, there exists an unusual commonality between those who steal art and those who repeatedly kill: they are almost exclusively male. But, as with all things, there is always an outlier—someone who bucks the trend, defying the reliable profiles and leaving investigators and researchers scratching their heads. In the history of major art heists, that outlier is Rose Dugdale. Dugdale’s life is singularly notorious. Born into extreme wealth, she abandoned her life as an Oxford-trained PhD and heiress to join the cause of Irish Republicanism. While on the surface she appears to be the British version of Patricia Hearst, she is anything but. Dugdale ran head-first towards the action, spearheading the first aerial terrorist attack in British history and pulling off the biggest art theft of her time. In 1974, she led a gang into the opulent Russborough House in Ireland and made off with millions in prized paintings, including works by Goya, Gainsborough, and Rubens, as well as Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid by the mysterious master Johannes Vermeer. Dugdale thus became—to this day—the only woman to pull off a major art heist. And as Anthony Amore explores in The Woman Who Stole Vermeer, it’s likely that this was not her only such heist. The Woman Who Stole Vermeer is Rose Dugdale’s story, from her idyllic upbringing in Devonshire and her presentation to Elizabeth II as a debutante to her university years and her eventual radical lifestyle. Her life of crime and activism is at turns unbelievable and awe-inspiring, and sure to engross readers.

30 review for The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    No, non, nyet..........I almost didn't finish this book which I seldom do. Why?.......I could not bear the woman, Rose Dugdale, who was the subject of the story.....and she was unbearable. The title is somewhat misleading since the theft of the Vermeer is not addressed until later in the book. I am not saying that the author doesn't write well.........it was the main character that engendered my intense dislike of this book. Enough said! No, non, nyet..........I almost didn't finish this book which I seldom do. Why?.......I could not bear the woman, Rose Dugdale, who was the subject of the story.....and she was unbearable. The title is somewhat misleading since the theft of the Vermeer is not addressed until later in the book. I am not saying that the author doesn't write well.........it was the main character that engendered my intense dislike of this book. Enough said!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Excellent research into the back story of the Russborough House Art Heist by one of the most complex thieves I've ever read about. Put aside most everything you've ever thought you knew about art thieves for this richly woven story. Unsure if history has any other art thief/terrorist/activist combo, let alone as a female protagonist. Amore peels back the layers of Rose Dugdale's repudiation of her upbringing and station in life. Excellent research into the back story of the Russborough House Art Heist by one of the most complex thieves I've ever read about. Put aside most everything you've ever thought you knew about art thieves for this richly woven story. Unsure if history has any other art thief/terrorist/activist combo, let alone as a female protagonist. Amore peels back the layers of Rose Dugdale's repudiation of her upbringing and station in life.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sheard

    If you pick this one up thinking it's about Vermeer and stolen art, you're going to be disappointed. Vermeer and the art heists hinted at in the title aren't even mentioned until more than halfway through the book, and then they're finished with in 30-40 pages. This is really a portrait of Rose Dugdale's life as a wannabe revolutionary. A spoiled rich girl, debutante, hypocrite, mediocre student, Rose suddenly turns on her family and Capitalism after university and starts looking for a fight–pre If you pick this one up thinking it's about Vermeer and stolen art, you're going to be disappointed. Vermeer and the art heists hinted at in the title aren't even mentioned until more than halfway through the book, and then they're finished with in 30-40 pages. This is really a portrait of Rose Dugdale's life as a wannabe revolutionary. A spoiled rich girl, debutante, hypocrite, mediocre student, Rose suddenly turns on her family and Capitalism after university and starts looking for a fight–pretty much any fight. She attends Castro's summer camp for revolutionaries in Cuba, travels to any civil protest she can find in the 1960s, all the while still enjoying the material wealth from her family. (A socialist revolutionary who buys her boyfriend a Mercedes? Umm... no.) Ultimately Rose adopts the cause of the IRA. It's telling that the IRA never really accepts Rose. They don't trust her, they don't think she knows what she's doing, and what she does she does fairly poorly. But Rose is all about the show, the noise, the pot-stirring. The problem for every revolution is that when you knock off whatever is on top, it has to be replaced by something else as the system "revolves." Rose never thought that far ahead. She just wanted to fight everyone and everything. I've read Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing, and if you're looking for a great book on the Troubles, that's a far better choice. If you're really interested in Vermeer and the two art heists mentioned in this book, the rest is a lot to wade through for very little about the art.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was an interesting book but not, to my mind, really "art-crime." It's more of a biography of Rose Dugdale, a British debutante turned fringe IRA fighter, who was also an art thief. I read The Irish Game and felt I knew as much about her as I really needed to after that, but Amore provides a history of that period of the Irish Troubles and many of the other characters involved to give more context to what she did overall, not just around the robbery at Russborough House. It is an interesting This was an interesting book but not, to my mind, really "art-crime." It's more of a biography of Rose Dugdale, a British debutante turned fringe IRA fighter, who was also an art thief. I read The Irish Game and felt I knew as much about her as I really needed to after that, but Amore provides a history of that period of the Irish Troubles and many of the other characters involved to give more context to what she did overall, not just around the robbery at Russborough House. It is an interesting story, particularly to me, as I spent considerable time in Ireland and England during the early 1970s. Amore seems a bit obsessed with Dugdale and writes with somewhat grudging admiration of her exploits, even the most violent ones, and many of the accompanying photographs are credited as being "from the author's personal collection." I found this odd, given Amore's background in law enforcement and ties to the FBI. I can certainly see, after what happened with the Belfast Project interviews, why Rose declined to speak to him, but hearing about her later life would have rounded the story out nicely. The part I found most intriguing was the robbery at Kenwood House, in which Vermeer's The Guitar Player was stolen. This took place just a couple of months before the Russborough House theft and Amore posits that Rose Dugdale was behind this heist as well. The clues do seem to point that way, but the secrecy surrounding the recovery (authorities never revealed the identity of the tipster, and no one was ever charged) is perplexing, to say the least. Perhaps someone else was involved that the police were reluctant to name because they were an informant? We'll probably never know. Another review I read mentioned that the end of the book seemed rushed, particularly around the kidnapping of Tiede Herrema, and that there were words left out in later chapters. I agree with this and also found several typos throughout the text, which was irritating. Hopefully, these will be corrected in the paperback edition.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    An interesting book, relating a very 1970s story. Rose Dugdale, born and raised in the upper levels of British Society (including being a debutante), became progressively more radicalized during the late 1960s. Originally a rebel without a cause, or perhaps : too many diffuse causes, she fixed upon the Irish Troubles as her life's work. It' s not clear whether the IRA welcomed her help (having no need of amateurs and being distrustful of her upper-class English background) and it seems she organ An interesting book, relating a very 1970s story. Rose Dugdale, born and raised in the upper levels of British Society (including being a debutante), became progressively more radicalized during the late 1960s. Originally a rebel without a cause, or perhaps : too many diffuse causes, she fixed upon the Irish Troubles as her life's work. It' s not clear whether the IRA welcomed her help (having no need of amateurs and being distrustful of her upper-class English background) and it seems she organized most of her stunts alone, or with the help of her lovers. This included an attempted aerial bombing (from a hijacked helicopter) of a police station, and at least 2 art heists. The first was in her own parents' house, the second was the Russborough House heist. In both cases there was not really much doubt about whodunnit, and the main challenge after the Russborough House theft was to find the fugitive Rose. This was accomplished by old-fashioned police work : constables knocking on every door of every farm in the Irish countryside, asking whether a woman with a British accent had lodged there. The best part of the book is the story of Rose's activism and her courtroom antics. Her dogmatic views and slogan-esque pronouncements carry the whiff of mothballs, but this was the lingo of the 1970s. I also liked the historical background of the Irish Troubles, including the never-ending list of skirmishes, car bombs and hunger strikes. Here and there the book gave signs of being written in haste or insufficiently edited. For instance, the 2-week hostage situation engineered by Rose's second, Gallagher, when he and some confederates kidnapped the (Dutch) manager of an Irish factory) is dealt with very summarily. And in the last chapters, there are sentences with words missing. The later life of Rose Dugdale is also barely mentioned, and I would have liked to know what became of the son (born while Rose was in prison).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Soumya Tejam

    The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist is positioned as the true story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House art heist, but it's also a history of the times in which she participated. Without being able to interview her directly for any material, Anthony M. Amore has done a remarkable job of assembling and fleshing out data points to provide both the setting and motivations behind her actions. The best part of the book is the story of The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist is positioned as the true story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House art heist, but it's also a history of the times in which she participated. Without being able to interview her directly for any material, Anthony M. Amore has done a remarkable job of assembling and fleshing out data points to provide both the setting and motivations behind her actions. The best part of the book is the story of Rose's activism and her courtroom antics. Her dogmatic views and slogan-esque pronouncements carry the whiff of mothballs, but this was the lingo of the 1970s. I also liked the historical background of the Irish Troubles, including the never-ending list of skirmishes, car bombs and hunger strikes. It is rare to read the biography of a woman who is remembered for her crimes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    This seems more a bio of Rose Dugdale and her development from growing up in the English aristocracy to becoming an Irish freedom activist than it does the story of the art heist. It began pretty slowly and rather academically, and I considered dnf-ing. but then became engrossed in her story. I had no prior knowledge of her newsworthy crimes and trials, but they happened during my college years when I really didn't keep up with world happenings and knew very little about the Irish political stru This seems more a bio of Rose Dugdale and her development from growing up in the English aristocracy to becoming an Irish freedom activist than it does the story of the art heist. It began pretty slowly and rather academically, and I considered dnf-ing. but then became engrossed in her story. I had no prior knowledge of her newsworthy crimes and trials, but they happened during my college years when I really didn't keep up with world happenings and knew very little about the Irish political struggles. The passion that steered her into her criminal behavior is clear and ongoing. An interview with Rose can be found on YouTube.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra

    I received a complimentary ARC. Moments that are written as though you were in the same place and watching it unfold. You get to peek into a life that is completely filled with so many emotions. For only having 272 pages this book covers so much detail and a really good story.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Mack

    Falsely advertised premise - this is not a book about an art heist or, for a great portion of it, Rose Dugdale. It's a non-fiction historical account that I found to be primarily focused on the political history of the Provisional IRA with allusions to some of the Provos' greatest scandals in the 1970s. If this is what you are looking for, I would maybe give it 3 stars. It is exceedingly detailed and researched, but to a fault - any narrative direction or momentum is somewhat lost, with multitud Falsely advertised premise - this is not a book about an art heist or, for a great portion of it, Rose Dugdale. It's a non-fiction historical account that I found to be primarily focused on the political history of the Provisional IRA with allusions to some of the Provos' greatest scandals in the 1970s. If this is what you are looking for, I would maybe give it 3 stars. It is exceedingly detailed and researched, but to a fault - any narrative direction or momentum is somewhat lost, with multitudinous footnotes to media coverage of these exploits and stand-offs (which should be more interesting than they are to read). The heists aren't even mentioned til about 50% in by Kindle's estimates (the book ends at ~80%, followed by photographs and whatnot), and a great portion of that first half isn't really about Rose so much either as the political and social context of the day. At the point we actually get to the heist I had been questioning whether to continue and powered on at the first mention of Vermeer. Disappointingly, even the heists are covered but briefly and in dry detail - perhaps 1.5-2 chapters out of 16 even discuss these events - and only the most superficial discussion of the art work, in my opinion. Overall, it reads like a dissertation gone awry, with a lot of interesting research but a dearth of focus and trajectory (typos and missing words included - it appears even the editor and author were bored in the end). In the same spirit, the epilogue feels like someone just wanted it to end (as much as I did) and attempt in a few brief pages to re-summarize the two pertinent chapters and bring the work back to its marketing point. Case in point: the last paragraph truly reads like a student just trying to wrap things up... in the tritest and quickest way possible.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I was extremely disappointed with this book. The title gives a reader the impression that this story is completely about the Vermeer paintings and the art heist that occurred. Wrong. It isn’t until page 140 that the stolen pieces are mentioned. About 40 pages later the heist and the investigation is all wrapped up, and we are forced to turn our attention back to all of Rose’s issues. I kept reading because I really wanted to know about the art and the heist, and I had already committed so much o I was extremely disappointed with this book. The title gives a reader the impression that this story is completely about the Vermeer paintings and the art heist that occurred. Wrong. It isn’t until page 140 that the stolen pieces are mentioned. About 40 pages later the heist and the investigation is all wrapped up, and we are forced to turn our attention back to all of Rose’s issues. I kept reading because I really wanted to know about the art and the heist, and I had already committed so much of my time reading about the insufferable Rose to get to the part I cared about. Then I felt obligated to keep reading after the brief mention of the theft, hoping there would be something more written about it. But once again it turned into the Rose show. Basically all I learned from this story is that Rose Dugdale appropriates Irish culture, has Daddy/Mommy issues, loves dating criminals, and is a complete psychopath. She has no clue what she is fighting for, but as long as she thinks she’s a badass doing it, she’s achieved her goal.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    This is a very interesting book that combines history, art theft and personality. While positioned as the true story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House art heist, it's also a history of the times in which she participated. Extensive research is evident throughout the book as the author unfolds Rose's life. Without being able to interview her directly for any material, the author has done a remarkable job of assembling and fleshing out data points to provide both the setting and motivation This is a very interesting book that combines history, art theft and personality. While positioned as the true story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House art heist, it's also a history of the times in which she participated. Extensive research is evident throughout the book as the author unfolds Rose's life. Without being able to interview her directly for any material, the author has done a remarkable job of assembling and fleshing out data points to provide both the setting and motivations behind her actions. Reading more academic in places, this book is an excellent exploration to the history and people of the IRA and the conflicts of Northern Ireland. Enjoyable and informative book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    The Life Of A True Radical and Revolutionary This is a fascinating and interesting account of Rose Dugdale who abandoned a life of comfort and means to advocate for the self-rule of Northern Ireland by any means necessary. Art thief, bomber, well versed in the philosophy of political, economic and cultural dissent, she comes across as a person committed to true justice and meaningful change despite her criminal misdeeds. This is a well-written, thoroughly researched account of “The Troubles” chan The Life Of A True Radical and Revolutionary This is a fascinating and interesting account of Rose Dugdale who abandoned a life of comfort and means to advocate for the self-rule of Northern Ireland by any means necessary. Art thief, bomber, well versed in the philosophy of political, economic and cultural dissent, she comes across as a person committed to true justice and meaningful change despite her criminal misdeeds. This is a well-written, thoroughly researched account of “The Troubles” channeled through the eventful life of Rose Dugdale.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sally Fouhse

    Book club selection, otherwise I might not have chosen this book. A rather odd story, poor little rich girl gets radicalized in the 1970's, and even though she's British, the cause she chooses is Ireland and The Troubles. I didn't understand her devotion to a cause with which she has no direct connection. She used her wealth and priviledge to rail against those with wealth and priviledge. Go figure. Book club selection, otherwise I might not have chosen this book. A rather odd story, poor little rich girl gets radicalized in the 1970's, and even though she's British, the cause she chooses is Ireland and The Troubles. I didn't understand her devotion to a cause with which she has no direct connection. She used her wealth and priviledge to rail against those with wealth and priviledge. Go figure.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Denise Rafferty

    True Crime at it's Best Well written. This is not a genre that I usually read. It it is the time frame that I have lived and was not aware of the story. A little too much detail for me. I am left with a distaste for the British rule, their prison system, what appears to be inept police investigation for the times and continued preferential treatment of the classes. Stodgy True Crime at it's Best Well written. This is not a genre that I usually read. It it is the time frame that I have lived and was not aware of the story. A little too much detail for me. I am left with a distaste for the British rule, their prison system, what appears to be inept police investigation for the times and continued preferential treatment of the classes. Stodgy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    This was a great book but note that you might be disappointed if you’re looking for a book about art crime. It’s really a biography of Rose Dugdale with just a chapter about the heist. Read ‘Stealing Rembrandt’ if you want a brilliant book about art theft.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I can see now why Anthony named this book what he did, mainly because of his job he frames the story around the theft of the vermers. I think ultimately the bigger and more interesting part of the story is Rose's activism. This debutante turned IRA activist is quite an interesting story. I can see now why Anthony named this book what he did, mainly because of his job he frames the story around the theft of the vermers. I think ultimately the bigger and more interesting part of the story is Rose's activism. This debutante turned IRA activist is quite an interesting story.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Smith

    This would make a better documentary than a book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Frank Kohl

    A great overview of the political turmoil which was Northern Ireland and England in the 1960's and '70's. I had difficulty understanding how a woman goes from débutante to terrorist. A great overview of the political turmoil which was Northern Ireland and England in the 1960's and '70's. I had difficulty understanding how a woman goes from débutante to terrorist.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    4-4.5 stars Very interesting, love the topic, but not in the same league as other books that deal with the Troubles and/or art theft.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    Was given this book as a gift. First 1/3 was very academic. And a lot of back story which only led me to not like Rose. The next section was more interesting with IRA stuff. But overall -eh.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Michael

    A revolution, true crime, art history, and a touch of feminism.... what more could you want?! Well researched and great telling of a fascinating piece of history

  22. 5 out of 5

    gnarlyhiker

    The Woman Who Stole Vermeer would have been a better read from the woman who stole Vermeer. good luck

  23. 4 out of 5

    Torie Reed

    This is the first examination of the only known woman to mastermind an art heist, Rose Dugdale. No matter if your interest is art, true crime, or biography, this is a fantastic read and you won’t want to put it down. The author, who is the Director of Security at the Gardner Museum in Boston and an expert in art theft, takes us through Dugdale’s beginnings—from debutante and Oxford student through her increasing radicalization in the 1970s—to set the stage for the main event: the 1974 robbery of This is the first examination of the only known woman to mastermind an art heist, Rose Dugdale. No matter if your interest is art, true crime, or biography, this is a fantastic read and you won’t want to put it down. The author, who is the Director of Security at the Gardner Museum in Boston and an expert in art theft, takes us through Dugdale’s beginnings—from debutante and Oxford student through her increasing radicalization in the 1970s—to set the stage for the main event: the 1974 robbery of the Russborough House in Ireland. The woman stole not just Vermeer, she stole 19 paintings after binding and gagging the owners, who were home at the time. And she did it in the name of the Irish Republican cause. It is rare to read the biography of a woman who is remembered for her crimes. For that alone, this book is well worth picking up. Dugdale emerges as a fascinating and contradictory figure. The narrative is lively, well-written, and exhaustively researched. If anything, I wish it had been longer. I will be giving this book to a number of friends this holiday season.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    I love reading about art theft.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Amore

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Murray

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  30. 5 out of 5

    Val Davenport

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