A 1982 New York magazine cover highlighted the astonishing case of Frank Waxman. (New York magazine via Google Books)

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In 1982, the FBI raided a Philly condo. It was covered in fine art — pieces by Rodin, Picasso, de Kooning — but there’s a twist.

Much of the art was allegedly stolen. And the *way* it was stolen is almost beyond belief.

The Philadelphia Daily News followed the story in May 1985 with this headline: “Doctor Fined $60,000 for Art Thefts.”

How’d we get here? First, let’s meet the thief: Dr. Frank Waxman.

Raised in West Philly, Waxman entered the prestigious Central High School in 1958.

In 1972, he graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and later went into private practice.

Waxman lived on the 13th floor of a luxury condo building in Rittenhouse Square and worked close by.

An art lover from an early age, Waxman turned his apartment into a small gallery. He amassed about 170 pieces of fine art.

But there was something odd about the collection.

Many of the works were by *major* artists: Henry Moore, de Kooning, Degas, Calder, Warhol, etc.

But the pieces were all small: an 18-inch sculpture by Rodin. A figurine made by Picasso.

If it was an unusual collection, Waxman still seemed rightfully proud of it. Items were on open display.

In 1979, Waxman showed off his collection to the local cognoscenti at a party he hosted for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new director, Jean Sutherland Boggs.

For years, no one suspected much.

From all appearances, a Center City doctor had used his new wealth to amass a small army of small artworks.

In December of 1981, someone walked into the Corcoran Gallery in Los Angeles and walked out with an art box collage by the American assemblage master Joseph Cornell.

Owner James Corcoran called the police. And the investigation soon led back to a doctor from Philly.

In April of 1982, police raided Waxman’s Rittenhouse Square condo.

What they found, according to journalist Michael Daly, was “the largest known collection of stolen art in the world.”

In total, police alleged there were about 150 stolen pieces worth north of $2 million

Maybe more stunning than that, was how Waxman stole the art.

Authorities believed he simply went into galleries, plucked small items, and walked out.

“We are talking about someone who was just a first-rate shoplifter,” said gallery owner James Corcoran.

It’s a story too strange for fiction: The Philadelphia doctor who — over many years — shoplifted the largest collection of stolen art known to authorities.

“Philadelphia doctor suspected as thief of taste and daring,” suggested the New York Times in April 1982.

Eventually, officials charged Waxman with “transporting or receiving” 34 stolen pieces of art. They said statutes of limitations restricted them from charging Waxman for all of the suspected thefts.

After initially pleading not guilty, Waxman cut a deal where he admitted to stealing 8 pieces. He said he had a substance-use disorder, which explained his behavior.

Waxman ended up serving 8 months in prison and paying a $60,000 fine.

This thread is based on contemporary reporting by the following journalists:

Michael Daly, Jim Smith, Dorothy Townsend, Mike Leary, Robert J. Terry, and Michael B. Coakley.

Originally tweeted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on May 4, 2023.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...