Van Gogh burglar jumps into canal to avoid cops after brief stand-off

Paramedics and a police officer at the scene of an incident (Stock photo: Politie)Paramedics and a police officer at the scene of an incident (Stock photo: Politie)

With reporting by Janene Pieters.

Octave Durham, best known as one of the burglars who stole two Van Gogh paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002, jumped into an Amsterdam canal while running from the police on Sunday. He was taken to hospital for observation.

Sources told the NL Times that Durham completely lost it. He made such a commotion on the balcony of his apartment near the Westerpark that his neighbors called the police. Police officers went to his home and tried to talk to him. When they forced their way into his flat, Durham jumped from the balcony and fled on a scooter. 

Durham was shouting random statements from his balcony and waving a machete or a large knife, sources say. He yelled that he was framed, and that he has inside knowledge about the police that should make the officers think twice about pursuing him. Days earlier, neighbors claimed he was shouting off his balcony about his ties to organized crime.

He also seemed to have bottles and books stacked on the balcony on Sunday, possibly to use as projectiles. After a standoff with the police, he jumped off his balcony to the floor below, climbed down another story, landing on the sidewalk. He then fled on foot.

A police spokesperson confirmed to Het Parool that a man stood on his balcony for some time, shouting confused statements. "We tried to get contact with the man, because it was clear he needed mental care", the spokesperson said. He could not confirm that the man was Durham. When the police forced the apartment door, the man fled on his scooter. He was run off the road by the police at the Buyskade. "There was only one way for him to go, and that was into the water", the spokesperson said to Het Parool. 

A police boat took him out of the water on the other side of the canal. He was taken to hospital for observation and was released later that same day. Durham could not be reached for a comment and his lawyer refused to give one.

Sources told NL Times that the police visited Durham's apartment two or three times recently for failing to pay damages for the two Van Gogh paintings he stole, and for causing a disturbance. He still owes nearly 344 thousand euros of the 350 thousand euros in damages the court ordered him to pay when sentencing him for the theft of the paintings. Durham told neighbors that this is unjustified because he returned the paintings. 

The paintings were in fact found in Italy, in a home connected to the Italian mafia, last year. They were recently returned to the Netherlands and are currently on display in the Van Gogh museum.

The Public Prosecutor confirmed to Het Parool that Durham recently received a notice that he needed to pay the rest of the damages. In a statement on Crimesite last week Durham responded: "I will not be intimidated by this notice. I'm going to challenge the damage compensation measure with my lawyer and if we do lose, I will sit in prison for a year. Then I'll have enough time to write my book in jail."