Stealing the Past: My Life as an International Art Thief

Stealing the Past: My Life as an International Art Thief

by John Tillmann
  • from-the-atlantic-canada
  • memoir
  • true-crime

It took Interpol, the RCMP, and the FBI over twenty years to catch Canada’s most audacious and prolific art thief, John Tillmann. In this candid memoir, Tillmann offers his unvarnished life story, from childhood petty thief to his most brazen heists, working with a trusted brother and sister team from Russia, to the the morning that he realized, as police closed in on his lakeside Nova Scotia home — stuffed with rare paintings, books, and a full suit of armour — that it was all coming to an inglorious end.

In this fascinating tell-all, Tillmann, who wrote this book while serving time in prison, owns up to the crimes that put him behind bars and gives his own intriguing analysis of what drove him. Everything is on the table, from how he used methods like simple distraction through the use of decoys — once using his pet cat; usually his beautiful Russian wife, Katya. He describes their extensive dealings with the Russian mob (the Black Hand) and the tactics he used to once steal a van Gogh and a thousand-year-old gold Viking amulet.

The exact value of Tillmann’s art heists has not been determined, although he once possessed a very rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species printed in 1859, as well as a five-thousand-year-old Egyptian mummy. By writing his story himself, Tillmann exposes both his weaknesses and his strengths, making no attempt to hide his unorthodox way of thinking.


John Tillmann, author

John Tillmann is Canada’s most notorious art thief. Tillmann amassed an astounding collection of rare and valuable books, artifacts, and historical documents before he was arrested and sentenced to eight years on some forty changes. He was granted full parole in 2016 and lives in Nova Scotia.


  • Police traced his travels to Russia [...] and the country’s most daring antique thief amassed a fortune by thinking small and slow. - Maclean’s Magazine

Rights Holder

Rights Holder: Nimbus Publishing Ltd.



rights sold: Canada

rights available: World

Additional Information

number of pages: 384

publication date: 09/15/2018

Original language of pub: English

Materials Available: complete manuscript