"I Saved All These Works," Says National Museum Thief

Laéssio Rodrigues de Oliveira studied library science to learn how to steal better and claims to have taken over 60,000 items

Ivan Finotti
São Paulo

Laéssio Rodrigues de Oliveira is a thief with a college degree. "I went to library school to learn how to behave in the middle of librarians so that I could steal better."

With a thieving career that spans over two decades, Oliveira claims to have taken 60,000 items from several Brazilian libraries and museums, mostly magazines of historical significance. 

Laéssio Rodrigues de Oliveira during a scene on a documentary film about his life - Divulgação

Instituto Itaú Cultural, for example, returned on Monday (3rd) another four rare pieces that he plundered from the National Library in 2004 and found their way to the institute's collection.

"I only steal magazines published between the 19th century and the 1960s," he explains. He also says he stole around 10,000 photographs.

From the National Museum that burned down three months ago, he says he ran off with 3,000 prints, some magazines, and 28 books. "I saved these pieces, didn't I? Otherwise now they would have turned into ashes," he says, bemused.

Oliveira says he plundered in very inventive ways. "It was so easy when I started. I would come in with two large suitcases, saying that I was on my way to the bus station. The employees didn't suspect a thing, back in the 1990s. I filled the suitcases to the brim; they almost toppled as I wheeled them out," he laughs.

Afterward, he started to use backpacks, rolled prints around his legs, hid in restrooms, threw pieces out of the window, etc. "I stole around a thousand historical magazines from Universidade de São Paulo by throwing them away from the library's window."

After being the subject of a documentary film, now Oliveira's life will be turned into a feature, directed by Mauro Lima.

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

Read the article in the original language​​