Fugitive Van Gogh Thief Kills Himself as Police Move in
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A man who jumped bail after being convicted of stealing a $1 million Van Gogh painting in 1984 killed himself when authorities finally tracked him down and moved in to arrest him, police said.
Ronald Stanley Gerson, 45, shot himself in the head Wednesday at his apartment in Encino as police were entering, Detective Phil Quartararo said.
Gerson had eluded capture for eight years. He even taunted authorities from time to time in telephone calls mocking their inability to learn his whereabouts.
His wife, Sandra Ekelman, 39, who witnessed the shooting, was arrested on warrants alleging she impersonated friends and relatives to obtain phony documents, police said.
Gerson, a Scottish-born computer programmer, had been on the run since jumping bail a day before being sentenced in 1985.
He and an accomplice were convicted of stealing Van Gogh’s 1888 painting, ″Pont Sur la Seine a Paris,″ then valued at $1 million, from a Bel-Air home in July 1984.
They spent a week in the house posing as gas company workers before stealing the painting and a nearly worthless copy of ″Harbor of Toulouse,″ an 1874 painting by Claude Monet, officials said.
Gerson, who also had 1979 and 1981 convictions for grand theft and robbery, was arrested at a hotel a month later when he tried to sell the paintings to undercover police for $1 million worth of cocaine and $120,000 in cash.
The accomplice, John Louis Simms, served part of an 11-year prison sentence and was paroled.
While on the run, Gerson ″would call me at Christmas time, kind of rub our noses in the fact he was still out,″ said Deputy District Attorney William Crisci.
Gerson was arrested several times under aliases but always fled after making bail, Crisci said. He and his wife would befriend people, then used their names to obtain duplicate driver’s licenses and credit cards and set up bank accounts, police said.