Late on the afternoon of Sunday, August 20 1911, three men strolled through the Louvre. Disguising themselves as museum staff they hid until nightfall. Sixteen hours later the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, had vanished. It took twenty-four hours for anyone in the museum to notice. When the alarm went out, the police rushed to the museum. The doors were locked, staff and visitors were detained, but the painting was long gone. France sealed her borders. And when the museum reopened a week after the theft, Parisians queued up in record numbers to view the blank space where the famous painting once hung. A huge police hunt continued, but months passed with no breakthrough in the case. It seemed that the theft of the Mona Lisa was the perfect crime. Two years later in Florence, art dealer Alfredo Geri received a letter signed Leonardo . The Mona Lisa was for sale; the price half a million dollars. A meeting was arranged and Leonardo was persuaded to let Geri remove the painting and take it
R. A. Scotti is the author of Basilica, on the building of St Peter's in Rome and Sudden Sea- The Great Hurricane of 1938, and four novels.