Parisian Officials Appeal to Thieves for Return of Stolen Paintings

May 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: An audacious heist at a Paris museum.

Jeffrey Brown has the story of one of the most costly art thefts in modern history.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Paris Museum of Modern Art remained closed today, and the city’s top culture official, Christophe Girard, appealed for the return of five stolen paintings valued at more than $110 million.

CHRISTOPHE GIRARD, deputy culture secretary, Paris City Hall (through translator): My only worry today, to be completely honest, is the safety of these paintings. I beg these people who have taken them not to do anything to these paintings, and especially to leave them somewhere we can recover them. These are masterpieces that belong to millions of people who like to see them.

JEFFREY BROWN: The five paintings were by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Georges Braque, and Fernand Leger.

Investigators say the heist took place early Thursday, when a masked intruder took advantage of a partially broken security system and entered the building through a window. His movements were caught on a not-yet-released security camera video. Three security guards were on duty at the time. It remained unclear if the thief had accomplices. And it was equally unclear what he or they could do with the stolen art.

PIERRE CORNETTE DE SAINT CYR, Auctioneer & President, Palais de Tokyo Museum (through translator): The thieves are imbeciles. Those paintings are absolutely unsellable, first of all, because these are very well-known paintings, and also because, with the Internet and means of communication, the entire planet has pictures of these paintings.

JEFFREY BROWN: As the investigation continued, Paris officials said there were no immediate plans to increase museum security measures. Instead, for now, they urged museum guards to be more vigilant.