SF police find stolen art while serving search warrant


Some of the pieces sell for a five-figure price tag. One victim says the suspect had a passion for art.

Police retrieved the expensive pieces from a Tenderloin apartment, including some taken from the library of the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park in early April. They are five paintings by a local artist, two 100-year-old works, and 30 reprints. They are valued at more than $15,000.

"We recovered, what looks like, most if not all of the prints taken from the library," said San Francisco Police Officer Richard Corriea.

But it is not the only place that has been hit.

"Artwork pieces, the paintings, some vases, some wood items. We believe we have at least five or six victims identified already," said San Francisco Police spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka.

Terry Helbing, 53, has been arrested on burglary and stolen property charges. He was a familiar face at the Botanical Garden and would show up for exhibits there.

"He started to talk about his love of art collection," said Michael McKechnie from the Botanical Garden Society.

He also might have been getting more aggressive in his art collecting.

"We saw him one day walk off with a piece of art that we were displaying and we ran after him and got it. So, it seemed to us that this guy was the right guy," said McKechnie.

Helbing wasn't arrested then, but the library has an alarm that was on during the April theft took place.

"We thought it worked and I think someone knew how to elude it," said McKechnie.

Helbing was back in the garden on Tuesday night, staff recognized him and called police. Helbing allowed them to check out his apartment.

Police immediately recognized some of the artwork from fliers of the missing paintings. They knew they had something bigger here and that lead to the search warrant.

"They'll have to go back, look at reports and try to match up those stolen items in those reports with some of the recovered property from last night," said Tomioka.

There will be more search warrants, but police cannot show the suspect's face or paintings because there could be more victims out there.

Victims of stolen artwork are urged to call the San Francisco Police Department.

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