Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Robert Leads

Real Name: Robert Leads
Aliases: None known
Wanted For: Grand Theft
Missing Since: 1988


Details: Fifty-six-year-old Robert Leads is wanted for the theft of several paintings in Los Angeles throughout the years. In early 1988, Leads, a self-described businessman and entrepreneur, traveled to the Los Angeles airport. He was scheduled to fly to New York. He was carrying an unusual cargo: two rare paintings valued at $330,000. He vanished and the paintings were never returned to their rightful owners.
Detective Bill Martin of the Los Angeles Police Department is one of only two police officers in the country specializing in crimes involving art theft. He has been unable to track down Leads. He says that Leads is so difficult to catch because he keeps moving. He has been traced to California, New York, Washington, northern Virginia, and Florida.
Leads had no experience in the world of art. However, he was an established con man with a prior record. In the fall of 1987, he was living in Los Angeles. At that same time, an Australian businessman and art expert named Brian Pearce was trying to sell several paintings in Los Angeles. One of the paintings was Auguste Renoir's 1916 'Anemones,' formerly held in the Helena Rubenstein collection and worth $200,000. Another painting was Mary Cassatt's 1904 water color 'Head of a Girl,' worth $130,000.
In November, Leads and Pearce were brought together at dinner by a Los Angeles art dealer. They made a deal: Leads would take Pearce's two paintings to sell on consignment; as collateral, Pierce would get stock in a multi-million dollar corporation Leads claimed he owned a controlling interest in. Pearce felt that Leads was outgoing and confident. Leads told him that he had assets with shares in excess of $14 million and had just signed some big businessmen into his companies. He also said that he was very happy to be purchasing the paintings.
At the dinner, Pearce brought along a female associate to serve as his witness. She observed that Leads seemed "out of his depth". She believed that he was incredibly naive about art. In fact, she didn't even think he knew who Renoir was. Pearce later sent her to deliver the paintings to the art dealer, who was serving as middle man for the deal. By that point, Pearce had already returned to Australia. She believed that Leads really wanted to make money on the deal, and that the dealer told him that he could get more money for the paintings than what Pearce was offering.
On December 12, the art dealer turned the paintings over to Leads, with the understanding that Leads would get back to Pearce in Australia within thirty days. At the end of thirty days, none of the paintings sold. Pearce demanded his paintings back. However, Leads refused to return them to him. The stock Leads gave to Pearce as collateral turned out to be worthless. Furthermore, Pearce had received no money, and the paintings had not been returned, so the authorities regarded them as stolen.
Leads moved to Florida, "wheeling and dealing" by using the artworks as collateral for several deals. During the next three months, the paintings would change hands a number of times. Through art dealer connections, detective Martin finally tracked down the Renoir 'Anemones' to the home of a Beverly Hills businessman on June 14, 1988. Because it was stolen property, it was impounded. The painting is currently being held in the police evidence vault in Los Angeles.
Surprisingly, detective Martin has received regular phone calls from Leads. He is trying to convince the authorities that he is innocent. So far, Martin remains unconvinced. Leads's current whereabouts are unknown. However, he is believed to be in the Washington, D.C. area.
Extra Notes: The case was featured on the January 25, 1989 episode. It was updated on the February 22, 1989 episode; the update included profiles of white collar criminals Walter Wenke and Ronald Denslow.

Leads after his arrest

Results: Captured. Within minutes of the broadcast, several viewers called the telecenter to report that they recognized Leads as a condo salesman named Robert Lee McKinney in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was living in the affluent Kingsmill neighborhood with his business partner. After the broadcast, he went into hiding.
Four days later, he was arrested at a Newport News hotel by special agents of the Virginia State Police Bureau of Crime Investigation. He was taken to the Newport News jail where bail was set at $1 million. On February 7, he was extradited to Los Angeles. He pleaded no contest to grand theft and was sentenced to two years in prison. He has since been released.
After the update, several stolen art pieces were listed by Stack, in hopes that viewers could locate them. They included the Potato Eaters and Sunflowers, by Van Gogh, that were stolen in the Netherlands in 1987;Impression Sunrise, along with other Claude Monet pieces that were stolen in 1985; Bird and Bouquet, by Marc Chagall was stolen in 1987; Lady Writing Letter with Maid by Vermeer was stolen in 1986; Still Life with Peaches, Pears, and Grapes, by Robert Dunning was stolen in 1987, and Stairs, by Y.J. Cho, was stolen in 1988.
Potato Eaters and Sunflowers were later found, along with Impression Sunrise in 1990. Lady Writing Letter with Maid was recovered in 1993. It is unknown if the other three paintings were ever recovered.