Last week when Irish police recovered the $20 million in art that had been stolen from collector Sir Alfred Beit (PEOPLE, May 13), they also made another impressive haul: Bridget Rose Dugdale, the 33-year-old convicted art thief who apparently masterminded the job. The daughter of Lt. Col. J.F.C. Dugdale, himself a millionaire who heads a Lloyd’s insurance syndicate and has a 600-acre estate in England, Rose rebelled against the world of wealth and privilege into which she was born. She once bitterly characterized her own coming-out party as “pornographic—something which cost about what 60 old-age pensioners receive in six months.” After obtaining a doctorate from Oxford, the former debutante became a militant socialist. She took a seedy apartment in London and began giving away most of her $20,000-a-year private income to causes. She also worked for a time as a U.N. economist and was active in the civil rights movement.
Last year Rose and her lover, Walter Heaton, an ex-guardsman, stole $200,000 worth of paintings and other treasures from her father’s home. He had them arrested, and Heaton got six years, she a suspended two-year sentence. Soon after, Rose immersed herself in the troubled waters of the Emerald Isle. Before long she was wanted on charges of smuggling arms and explosives into Ulster and in connection with the dropping of a milk-churn full of explosives from a helicopter near the police station at Strabane, County Tyrone.
Two days before the Beit robbery, Rose and a man she said was her husband rented a $20-a-week cottage in the tiny fishing village of Glandore. They gave the name Merrimee and a fictitious London address—and she spoke with a French accent, as did the woman leader in the Beit heist. For 10 days Rose and the man lived there, mostly behind locked doors.
On Saturday Sgt. Pat O’Leary and sidekick Willie Creedon arrived for a door-to-door check on holiday homes in the area. They spoke to Rose, then went away. A few minutes later Rose asked to borrow a neighbor’s car, saying she would return in two hours. She took four—and when the car came to a halt outside the cottage, she was surrounded by policemen. Inside the cottage, police found the three most valuable paintings stashed in an alcove. The other 16 were in the trunk of the borrowed car. Apart from marks on the varnishing, the paintings were undamaged. There was no trace of the man called Merrimee.