2006_12_artcop.jpgLast week, retired NYPD detective Robert Volpe died at age 63 in Staten Island. He was not any ordinary detective: Volpe specialized in art thefts and frauds, tracking down paintings by Matisse and Raphael, Greek sculptures, and Tiffany glass, all while continuing to paint, teach and lecture about art. The NY Times had a vivid obituary of Volpe's life - it sounds just like a movie:

Mr. Volpe essentially created his detective’s job after computer analyses pinpointed art theft as a growing problem. Asked to make a survey, he came back with actual arrests instead of a report — underlining the need for a special effort.

He became that effort, making the New York Police Department the nation’s only one with a separate bureau for art crime. Around the department, Mr. Volpe was known as Rembrandt. Fellow policemen sometimes put nude centerfolds on his locker with the handwritten question, “But is it art?”

...Robert Volpe was born in December 1942 and grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He studied art at the High School of Art and Design, Parsons, and the Art Students League. Fresh out of the Army, he joined the police to have an “offbeat” job while he painted, he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1977.

He first walked a beat on the Lower East Side, did undercover work on organized crime cases, and was part of the narcotics squad that investigated the heroin-smuggling operation known as “The French Connection.”

Volpe was also the father of Justin Volpe, who is serving a 30-year prison term for sodomizing Abner Louima. (In 2000, the Village Voice reported that Volpe wore voodoo charms during his son's trial.) The funeral was recorded so Justin could see it later.

Laurie Adams wrote a book about Volpe in 1974 called "Art Cop." And speaking of art and life, a man who appeared on an episode of Law & Order last season was arrested for a series of robberies where he claimed to be "wrapped up in dynamite."