When word spread in the New Mexico art community that a drawing by Vincent van Gogh valued at more than a million dollars had been stolen from a Santa Fe home, it didn't take long for someone to spot it for sale in a consignment shop.
But the man who authorities believe stole the priceless sketch last year of van Gogh's famous painting "The Night Cafe" sold it for a mere $250 then fled, police said.
Last month, the suspect turned up in Vermont, where he has been charged with burglarizing two condominiums in the ski resort town of Stowe, credit card fraud and occupying an abandoned camp in Underhill.
Edward Laird, 45, is being held on $50,000 bail. It was not clear Thursday if he had a lawyer or when he would be returned to New Mexico to face charges.
"His pattern seems to be to migrate to high-end, resort-type areas in the country. But he's not there to vacation, he's doing bad stuff," said Stowe police Sgt. Bruce Merriam.
Police believe he swiped the framed charcoal drawing off a wall of the Santa Fe home in May of 2009, along with Rolex watches and expensive jewelry. But apparently he didn't know what he had gotten his hands on with the sketch of the 1888 painting, which shows a nearly empty cafe with a few customers seated at tables along vibrant red walls.
"We are presuming that he didn't know that this was an expensive piece of art. ... If he was a savvy art expert or knew what he was taking, he would have known that this van Gogh was worth more than $1 million," said Sgt. Louis Carlos of the Santa Fe Police Department. "This is actually the most valuable piece that we have investigated and recovered."
A woman from Amarillo, Texas, knew the original when she spotted it a month later at the consignment shop in Raton, N.M., and called police. Police learned the man who sold it was Laird, who had no permanent address and who had moved from where he had been staying in New Mexico, authorities said.
Laird later was charged with commercial burglary in Trinidad, Colo., not far from Raton, then arrested in Vermont, nearly a year after he failed to show up at his arraignment in New Mexico.
"He's sort of a vagabond thief," Carlos said.