WHITING TENNISS BLUE HAMBURGER The 7 1/2-foot painting that wouldnt fit in the back of his friends El Camino.
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • WHITING TENNIS'S BLUE HAMBURGER The 7 1/2-foot painting that wouldn't fit in the back of his friend's El Camino.

Blue Hamburger and Document, the two largest works of art by Whiting Tennis that were stolen in a U-Haul truck back in December, were returned yesterday.

Five works are still missing, but Tennis told me that if he could have one work back, it would be Document, and Blue Hamburger is easily the next most important work in the group. (Full police list.)

The story of the return is strange and shady. I'm going to let Tennis's art dealer, Greg Kucera, tell it in his own words. Kucera:

Yesterday, I got a phone call on my cell phone from a guy who said "a friend of mine found two large paintings in an alley in Seattle that were stolen from you."

I asked for verification by image and he sent photos of them. They were the "Blue Hamburger" and the older work " Document." The two largest of the stolen works.

The early work Document is the one the artist most wanted to get back.
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • The early work Document is the one the artist most wanted to get back.
I confirmed that these were among the stolen paintings. And thanked him for contacting us. Asked him how we could get them back.

Then he came down to the gallery with a female friend to check me out and make sure I was telling him the truth when I said, "we were not involving the police at this point. We just want the paintings back."

He asked if a reward was still offered. I said, "our $10,000 reward expired at end of May. But we could still offer his friend $1,000 for the safe return of the two."

He asked if he could get $100 for helping get them returned to us since he knew "it was the best thing for the artist." I said we could but, "This is the end of our negotiation."

He said he would bring them down in the afternoon.

Then he called back to ask if we could pay the reward in cash. I said we could. We went to the bank and got $1,100 in hundred dollar bills.

He reiterated he would bring them down.

Then called later and said they wouldn't fit in the back of his friend's El Camino. He asked if we could pick them up in Federal Way. I said we could.

We rented a van from Home Depot and Guy and I drove out to 288th and Military Road to meet his El Camino at a 7-11 and follow them to a house a few blocks away (this location was just a few blocks away from my high school, Thomas Jefferson!).

We exchanged the cash for the paintings.

Then he said he needed a job and asked if we had any jobs for him.

I shook his hand, thanked him, and said, I wished him luck with his life.

We drove back to the gallery and got there 10 minutes into the opening, paintings in hand. Whiting was relieved to get these two back.

In response, I wrote Kucera a one-word email: "Batty." He responded only, "Starsky & Hutch." Whatever the circumstances, it's great that the paintings are back where they belong.