Website helps Berkeley woman reunite with stolen painting

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A Bay Area woman is overjoyed after being reunited with a treasured painting she thought was gone forever. (KGO-TV )

A Bay Area woman is overjoyed after being reunited with a family heirloom she thought was gone forever. It all happened because of a free website started by a Bay Area police officer.

Berkeley resident Nellie Hill still marvels at the inscription on the back of a painting signed by the artist to her parents on a trip to Paris.

"It was there in the living room and it just drew me into the landscape, or into the forest," Hill said.

Back in January, her mom told her she could have it. She shipped it but thieves got to it first. "This painting had meant so much and my mother was ill so it was very painful," Hill said.

She reported it to the police and then searched the Internet, where she found Stolen911.com.

"It's free. Post as much information as possible, tell a story. People want to hear why this item is important," Stolen911.com's detective Marc Hinch said.

Hinch created the site where people can post their stolen items in case whoever winds up with it decides to Google it.

"I put, 'Please return painting, reward. No questions asked,'" Hill said.

Hill didn't hear anything back for months and she figured the painting was gone. Then she got a strange phone call from an unknown number. "A man's voice said, 'Uh Ellen?' That's my legal name. 'Ellen, are you an art dealer?' No. 'We have your painting,'" Hill recalled.

The caller said he Googled the artist and found the post.

"As far as I can see, there's no damage. It wasn't really mistreated," Hill said.

Hinch counts it among the website's greatest victories. "I've had a lot of musical instruments recovered and obviously vehicles and things like that, but artwork, this is the first for us," he said.

Hill hadn't been sure where to put the painting, but now she says it's earned a prime spot over the fireplace.
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